Audience of Shadows - The Story So Far
by Branden Hart

Branden took a little break after the last chapter and now he's back writing again. Before we bring you the new chapters, let's revisit the entire story so far - the first 13 chapters - in one sitting.

Chapter 1

For the first time in a long time I can't remember a detail: How many bullets do I have left?

I fired one into the air, one into the head of my girlfriend, and one into the leg of the bastard she was sleeping with. Keeping up with what's been discharged isn't the problem; it's how many bullets I loaded in the first place. Had I loaded a full clip? Or were there some missing from the time I'd spent practicing? I can’t remember the details, and I'm pretty sure it's from the goddamned medicine.

I might as well be a librarian, or a researcher. My aptitude tests say either would suit me fine. I spend most of my time collecting information.

What I remember about walking down the hall at school:

Three doors on the right.

Four on the left.

Total of fifty-seven steps and counting...

I used to try to count the lockers as I passed them, but the numbers got jumbled up with the doors and the steps, and I ended up having to go back to the classroom I started in and go through the whole process again. After that, the lockers laughed at me when I walked by. You can't quantify us, they mocked. We are here, and you won't ever know how many of us there are.

When this fact bothered me to the point of stomach upset, I went to the school office and asked to see the blueprints so I could count the lockers. When the secretary I spoke to looked at me like I was crazy (an accurate perception, according to most) I said Just go ask Mr. Granger, Ok?

When she returned, she had the blueprints in her hands. "I'm sorry," she said, "I talked to Mr. Granger, I didn't know." Not sure what to do, she rolled it to me across the desk. It was like a steamroller; every inch of it came into contact with years of germs and microbes, except the area right around the rubber band, where it was raised just enough to save that virgin white from being contaminated. That’s where I picked it up, using two fingers.

"Thanks," I said. She smiled, visibly relieved; she'd done her job and done it well. She told me with her actions she didn't want to touch me; what she didn’t say was why. Was it because she knew about my phobia? Was it because she was afraid she might catch whatever it was that I had?

"Whatever it is" is the name a lot of people give to my disorder. Disease is another. Most people think I deserve a handicap-parking sticker. I’m not handicapped, I tell them; I can still walk. I just have to be very, very careful where I step.

Dirt is where I'm standing right now. Lots of dirt, with thousands and thousands of years of microbes and germs and god knows what else waiting to be stirred up with just the kick of a shoe. A thought comes into my head: how many feet above sea level are you? It makes a difference. Some germs die at higher altitudes...

The screaming brings me back, this infectious high-pitched laugh of a scream. That's coming from the guy she's been sleeping with. I used to know his real name, but it's the one detail I'm happy to forget this evening.

He stamps his leg, screaming over and over about hospitals and tests and IVs and all we had to look forward to after this night. Jail cells, thin cotton sheets on even thinner matresses, we got 'em all. Come on down.

His stamping is stirring up dust. I don't notice this as immediately as I should; damn medicine. I watch the thin spirals burst into the night sky, up and up, riding on the light air at this height (I should have remembered the altitude) thousands of years of rot and decay looking for a place to rest, and more than likely, at least some of it would end up in my nose, in my lungs, a part of me.

I put the gun to my side for a second. I realize that I just thought "at least some of it would" contaminate me. But some of something every day gets into our bodies and roots around. ‘What good is all of this,’ screams a part of myself I had successfully shut up years before, ‘if you can't even be conscientious of the most important means of preventing infection?’

It's a voice I've heard so often in my life. My psychologist calls it Rationality. Rationality, she says, is almost like another person in my head, and he just can’t let himself be heard over all the commotion of the main part of my head. She doesn’t have a name for that part. She says once the medicine starts working, I will be able to listen more carefully to Rationality and leave old What's-his-name? behind.

Rationality makes sense tonight, for the first time ever. The guy is still kicking around, stirring up dust; I lean over into it. Tendrils of the stuff caress my face, and I breathe in, soft at first, until Rationality says, "Go for it. It won't hurt. Most importantly, it won't kill you."

That last part's the kicker. My psychologist says that half the reason for my disorder stems from an unwarranted fear of mortality I haven’t dealt with. I tell her I've dealt with death my whole life. She isn't talking about just experiencing it, she says; she’s talking about incorporating it into my ideal self, into the person my soul wants me to be.

The dirt tickles my nose, and I sneeze, and it feels good; I don't sneeze that often. I keep a list of places and situations that can cause sneezing, as well as remedies to arrest the urge, in the "Things to avoid and ways to avoid dealing with them" part of my brain. It's the biggest part of my brain, I think. And I wonder if, after tonight, there’s going to be any use for it.

Damn medicine.

“Who's fault is it?" asks the guy my girlfriend's been sleeping with. "Is it mine? Or hers? Is either one right? Either one to make you feel as though you aren't the one to blame. Well you know..."

I put another bullet into his leg to shut him up. The screams multiply. It sounds like there are two voices screaming. I look at him and realize he isn't making a sound. His mouth is open, but nothing comes out.

I turn around. I'm caught between the warring factions of my mind, watching, listening, as sirens and blue and red lights slowly work their way through the town laid out below us. I have to think, and the screaming in my head doesn't help. I have to think back over what's happened, what led up to all this. Then I can decide whether or not to kill the bastard.

That is, says one of my minds—I'm not sure which—if you still have any bullets left.

Which I had not thought of when I shot his leg.

I'm breaking apart here.

Open the bedroom door.

One one thousand, two one thousand, three one thousand, four one thousand...

Open the fridge and get out shot glass. One one thousand...

Open the cabinet, get out vodka. One one thousand...

When I hear the tequila bottle break it ruins everything. Who knows what will happen next? My dad might clean it up. He might still be drunk from last night. I don't really know what time it is; I haven't had a working clock in my room since I was ten. But I wake up every morning when he gets out of bed. I hear the creak of his mattress through the apartment's thin walls. That's the longest count: forty-five one thousand. I picture him sitting on the edge of the mattress, head in his hands, wondering whether or not he'd hit me the night before, although, I had to admit, he was probably most concerned with how he'd gotten home and why he hadn't gotten laid, whatever that meant. After this, I hear him thud across to his bathroom. I can actually hear him taking a piss. I used to hold off counting at this point, until I realized that every morning his piss lasted between twelve and fourteen one thousands. Never the full forty-five he always took up on his mattress. Everything else in the bathroom; brushing, a quick shave with a dry razor, was twenty-nine. Still, nothing stood up to the time on the mattress.

That morning, I waited to hear the door shut to the outside. I started counting once the bottle had dropped. By ten one thousands, he had done nothing.

By twenty, I was getting a little worried. What was he doing, just standing there? I hadn't seen my father in over two weeks and had no desire to confront him now.

At fifty one thousands, I got out of bed, left foot first, took three large steps to the door, and opened it. I walked through the doorway one, two, three times, each time setting my right foot only outside in the hall and then turning swiftly on it, only the last time leading out with my left foot and down the hall, five steps, across the doorway three times, and finally into the kitchen, left foot first.

He isn't there.

Wondering how he managed to get away from the kitchen without me hearing the creak of the floorboards horrified me. I should have heard that. Because there was only one place he could go.

He's in his bathtub. I should have been able to count the steps. Had he treaded so lightly on purpose? Did he know my routine as well as I did?

"What," he said, drowning the last bit of liquor in his glass.

I stand, like I always do, ashamed to ask a Question. One of those Questions that I know is stupid, that I know isn't worth anything, but that something inside compels me to ask. My psychologist tells me that if I listen to that something, I'll never be able to live life to its fullest. I tell her that she needs to find a way to shut that something up.

"Dad, if I masturbate while I'm in the shower, and it gets on the shower curtain, do I need to wash the shower curtain? Can people get germs from me that way?"

I stare at him, waiting for his reaction. He might just answer nonchalantly, tell me I was worried about something that wasn't important, and encourage me to use my brain in more productive ways. He might ask me why I thought that was important, and help me figure out why I was concerned about it, and whether that was warranted. But those were fantasies. He would probably go nuts on me. Maybe he would break my nose, I think. Then I could go to the hospital, they would say, "My, this fine young man lives with such a monster. He would do so much better on his own; we should put him up in a nice apartment and see how he does for himself."

Who was I kidding. I would go straight to a psych ward.

"Jesus Christ," he mutters, his face covering his hands.

He says nothing else. Just sits. And I'm standing there, wondering whether he thinks I've asked a stupid question, or whether his amazement is an indication of something I've done wrong. Guilt flows from the wellsprings of my mind. Wellsprings of serotonin and GABA receptors.

He leaves that morning without saying anything to me. In fact, we missed each other, as he left while I was cleaning my toilet. And then I had to clean the gloves I used to clean the toilet, which took the longest, but then when I was done, I had to use the toilet, and the cycle started all over again, until I was late for school, and decided that instead of going to learn about chemical reactions and attending driver's education in the afternoon, I would clean the whole fucking house. Then, my father and I would at least have something to talk about that night.

The kitchen, my room, the living room, and the hallways took about an hour. Disinfecting spray, a quick vacuum, more disinfecting spray, and a final vacuum (with a new bag). His bedroom was messy. It took an hour to do that, then another hour for me to get myself clean, and then clean my bathroom again. The last room was his bathroom.

It's the most disgusting thing I've seen. Ever. Mold grows in every crack and corner. I see some of it pulsating. The bottom of the bathtub, which is visible from where I stand in the doorway, has dirt in it. Dirt from the old man in the bath tub. The dirt of his life.

One thing that happens when I'm in unpleasant environments is panic attacks. And the biggest cause of these attacks is germs. Germs, dust, and dirt. So when I see the bottom of his bathtub, I feel a throbbing pain in my chest. And by the time I register all the mold, my left arm is numb.

When he finds me after he gets home that night, I'm in bed, curled up. There's nothing else I can do.

"Have another attack?" he slurs. Even feet away, the liquor on his breath makes me gag, and I can't answer. After a moment,

"Did you take your pills?"

I don’t even have the mind to remind him that the last time he managed to steal Xanax for me was several months ago. He used to buy it. But now…

Only the black tells me that the door has closed. He leaves the conversation with no goodbye, no wishes of a good-night's sleep. He just leaves.

The next morning, I wake up without knowing what time it is. I listen for his first movements.

Open the bedroom door.

Open the bedroom door.

He never sleeps late.

Open the bedroom door.

Open the bedroom door.

By the time I realize the apartment is empty, the phone is ringing. I pick it up.

"Hello, this is H. Ellison High School, and we just wanted to confirm with your father that you are absent from school today. Can we speak to him?"

"My father's gone," I say as I hang up the phone once, twice, three times, using my left arm first...

If you have to think of the word you use the most, the one single word in the world you use the most, what would it be?

In a survey of one hundred people, one percent may say fire (as in "You're Fired") or God (as in "Praise Be to God") or freeze (as in "Freeze—you're under arrest"). The other ninety percent will say hello, or one of its many variants.

As if everything isn't a variant of something it isn't.

Any conversation anyone has usually starts with some sort of greeting.

The word I use the most is quirk. When someone asks me why I walk through the door to a classroom three times, I say, "It's a quirk." When they ask what I'm counting, I tell them, "Just counting my footsteps--it's a quirk."

"Why are you washing your hands again?"

"Well, I touched part of the towel dispenser, and it might be dirty. It's just a quirk."

Nobody ever says hello to me. Their greeting is always a variant of "Why are you doing that," and I answer, "Quirk."

My own little variant of goodbye.

Because anytime anyone hears that it's a quirk, they shut down. Everyone is concerned, not for me, but themselves. "Why is he walking through the door three times? Is it for any good reason?" No, just a quirk. "Phew," they think, "as long as it doesn't have anything to do with me." Their faces are all compassion.

Feigned pity and madeover relief are the two emotions I get from people.

At my new school, the one I go to after my father leaves and I'm shipped to a "Home for Displaced Children" across town, things are the same. I hear people talking to each other, saying hello-goodbye, then people talking with me in the why-quirk language I'm accustomed to.

Familiarity with ritual breeds surprise when that ritual is called into question.

"Why did you do that?"

I turned. I'm in the library at my new school and was putting a copy of The Stranger back into its spot on the shelf one, two, three times.

"Quirk," I say out of habit.

"Oh," she says, coming to stand beside me. "I like quirks."

She's not looking at me; she's searching the stacks for something. It looks like an attempt to be close to someone, but nobody has ever tried that with me before.

"Have you ever had naked lunch?"

My heart pounds, my stomach wrenches tight, a clamp on itself. I'd never been hit on before. My tongue swells up in my mouth, my brain goes crazy/ier trying to figure out when to kiss her, hold her hand, do all the things I had to admit to myself I knew nothing about.

"No," I manage. "But I'm up for anything."

It's the kind of line that I always hear guys in the movies saying, but it comes out as a strained jumble of words I'm certain she won't understand.

"Well you should try it," she says, and leans up close to me, where her breasts are touching my arms, firm beneath the fabric of her shirt, and I think I'm going to come right then, and then she leans the length of her body against me, her breasts pressing against my arm, my first contact with that flesh, and I do come, right then, in my pants.

"Burroughs is an amazing writer," she says, looking at the cover of the book she's just pulled from the stack right above the copy of The Stranger I was looking at. She hands it to me before walking away.

Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs.

For one brief moment, I have an independent thought—one that doesn't stem from my disorder at all. In that second, I forget that I'm walking through a door only once. I forget that I have a disgusting mess in my pants that I have to clean up. I forget everything besides what I observed during my conversation with a beautiful woman:

It's amazing how much 'read' can sound like 'had' when you want it too.

Another part of me says it isn't amazing, not at all.

Just quirky.

Chapter 4

What my father won't tell me is where he keeps his porn.

This was long before he left.

"If you want to know about sex, read a book," he yells through slurred words and the aroma of malt liquor. "They've got books about stuff like that in school"

Not in our school, I tell him.

"So make friends with some older boys. Ask them. That's what a boy’s friends are for."

What my father won't tell me, I decide to find out for myself.

After he's gone, they let me go back to the apartment. I'm sixteen now, and that's old enough for even that bit of autonomy. "Give him time," I overhear one of the case workers saying, just right outside of the distance adults think they have to get so kids won't hear their conversations, just inside the distance she truly needs to be.

I go to the closet in the living room. Inside, under mounds of old clothes and packed boxes, I find the slab of whitewall that had been removed so many years ago, I'm assuming to hide what was inside from my mother.

What was inside fit on a film reel that he kept in his bedroom. After my mom died, we used to watch home movies on that reel and sit up in bed. He would drink beer. That was back when he might drink a six pack of beer a night, get smiley and happy, and sit with his arm around me, telling me he loved me. That we would be alright, that things would change, that see, he wasn't even hitting the hard stuff, just enough beer at night to help him relax.

Just two months later, when my father wouldn't tell me where he kept them (insert aroma of Wild Turkey), when he wouldn't talk to me about sex (insert the smell of Mad Dog 20/20), I spent my two hours between when I got home and the earliest he ever stumbled through the door looking for them. I found them, without incident, underneath the boxes where he kept my mother's things.

This afternoon, I found them where I had left them the last time I used them. Underneath the boxes, which were now underneath all the clothes my father had become to thin for. I used to think his skin just melted into his clothes when I was younger. I was old enough to know now that it was the alcohol that absorbed every part of his body.

I put one of my favorites on the old newsreel. Two men, one woman. The men were fucking her hard. I knew that much, because the woman kept saying it. “You are fucking me so hard,” she would say as she spit on her hand and wiped it on the other one's penis, dick, whatever, same thing, and started to jerk him off. I knew she was jerking him off because he said how good she was at jerking him off. I'm pretty sure what I was doing right then as the film spun and clicked and clacked beside my head was jerking off, but I wasn't sure if it made a difference since I didn't have a girl and another guy there, or a girl and a girl, or two girls and a guy, or two guys, or any one of the myriad other assortments and arrangements of partners I had seen on these films, my outlet to the world of fucking.

It was all I knew, because I had no friends to ask about it. People treated me like I was invisible. I was quiet, I kept to myself, and there were other people to pick on. The geeks, the dorks, the fags, they were all more valuable fodder than some kid who walked in the door weird every now and then. The fags and dorks walked around weird all the time. No use picking on the guy with the quirks.

I sufferred this shit in silence, anger welling up. The anger was fueled by not being able to go to some guy I knew, some guy I called a best friend, who knew me, who cared about me, who loved me as a friend, and say, “Hey man, do you know what making love is?”

What about fucking?

Ass fucking?

Sucking off?


Because I do. I hear the people on the pornos I watch talk about it all the time. I can tell you about them, if you tell me something.

This is the kind of friend that would say sure in a heartbeat, say lay it on me, what do you want to know, my big brother's told me everything!

And I would say, what's sex? Because that's the thing I hear people at school whispering about the most, gigling about, talking about after seeing the new couple walk down the hallway, holding hands. I would see people watch them, “Do you think they're having sex?” and giggling, and I know it has something to do with what the people on the pornos are doing, but it's the one word I never hear them say.

Chapter 5

My art teacher tells me it has to stoppp. The threes threes threes. They have to stop. They have to stop. They have GOT to stop.

I tell her with the way she's talking, it sounds like my quirk is catching.

This is from the day when I meet Mr. Granger.

She sighs and tells me to follow her. We march down to the school office and she signs me in, then says she has a class to attend to and leaves me there. The secretary tell me I'll have to wait, he has a scheduled appointment, and I say that's fine. I've been waiting my whole life. She gives me the very funny look I've become used to and I smile and wait politely, patiently.

In about an hour, after kid after kid walks out around me, some through the office because its a good shortcut, some to see the principal, or one of the three vice principals, and even after that, when the halls are calm again and the final bell for third period has sounded, finally Mr. Granger calls my name. His blue eyes peek out at me from behind horn-rimmed spectacles, which I immediately notice need cleaning very badly.

"Well, let's see here. Miss Finney seems to think you may have an addiction to the number three."

I laugh. I tell him Miss Finney has an addiction to ignorance.

Despite my expectation of scowl (a variant of “You know better than that you little smartass”) he laughs softly and smiles.

"Well, she does think she knows a little more than she really does, in some cases, though as a teacher, she is extremely competent. Why did you walk through the doorway three times when you came into my office?"

"It's a quirk I have."

He writes this down.

"Right, I understand that. But why do you do it?"

I shrug, frustrated.

He writes this down.

"You see, your identifying this as a quirk is fine and good, but identification is a far reach from explanation. I want to know what compels you to do it."

I shrug again. "I don't know what to say, it's a quirk, I just feel I need to do it. Like breathing, or taking a shit."

He writes this down.

"I understand you are probably upset right now," he tells me, "but if you wouldn't mind, I take offense to the words fuck, shit, piss, pussy, cunt, dick, cock, or asshole." He looks up from writing. "I'm not partial to tits, or any other variants on breasts."

As if everything else isn't a variant of something it isn't.

What about damn and hell? I ask him.

"I can get into trouble for even mentioning those words, let alone forbid their use. They are tied very deeply in religion," then he stops, remembers something, and begins writing again, "and it is my job to stray as far away from that as possible when talking to you kids."

“How do you do that?” I ask him.

"Do what?"

“Write while you’re talking. How do you separate those two functions?”

He shrugs, then starts writing again. "I don't know. How do you not know why you walk through the door three times?"

“You ask that as if the answer to both questions are the same.”

He shrugs again—this time while he's writing. It doesn't affect his output. "Maybe it is," he says, and then, with grave finality, closes the notepad he's been writing in and says, "Listen. I've seen your scores on the Iowa tests. They're good. Have you ever had an IQ test before?"

I shake my head.

"Would you be willing to take one?"

I nod.

"Good. I'll have to clear it with the State, since they are technically in charge of you now, but I'll arrange it. In the mean time, tell me about your parents? About your father. How are you holding up after the loss?"

There is a whirr of the fan in the distance that I just notice. It makes an unsteady tapping noise that I can easily divide into threes if I concentrate hard enough.

"I said how are you holding up?" asks Mr Granger after the third set of threes weighs down the silence between us too much.

Solid, I tell him, somehow dividing my mind between my counting task and his question. I'm holding up fine, two three, six, two three...

Chapter 6

There is a language besides English that I am fluent in. It's spoken in every country in the world, and I assume on any other world in the universe where people say things in front of people they don't want them to hear. It's called Hushedwhispers.

It took me longer to learn Hushedwhispers words than it did to learn English, mostly because the words in Hushedwhispers aren't spoken at all sometimes. It's a language of nodding heads, or arching eyebrows, or clever smiles. It's a language of deception. There is no Hushedwhispers-to-English dictionary; don't look. It is a language you have to learn on your own. And you only have a chance to learn it when people are talking about you in Hushedwhispers. It's hard to tell sometimes. My trick is to find two people talking in Hushedwhispers and walk toward them, concentrating on the face of the person looking in my direction. If that person looks to me quickly then goes back to the conversation, I don't have to worry; I’m not being talked about. But if he or she smiles, goes out of his or her way to say hi to me over the shoulder of the other person, or moves the conversation to another location, I can be guaranteed that the conversation is about me.

You get better at it as you go along. The first few times you try this, the people will move away. Make sure this isn't because you're creeping them out. Don't stare at them, just make obvious attempts to gain attention. Look repeatedly over a small period of time—you'll always catch someone's eye. Smile a little, just a friendly, how-do-you-do-sorry-didn't-mean-to-stare-I-was-zoned-out smile, and then see what happens.

Of course, none of this will be necessary once you begin to understand your name in Hushedwhispers. The audible language of Hushedwhispers is, in its English equivalent, composed primarily of hard sounds made with the tongue, for example, 'S' or 'Ch'. Don't expect to hear this right off; it is very muffled and hard to detect. But slowly, the more you listen to conversations in Hushedwhispers, the more you understand. Pretty soon, words will come together. They may sound like English words, but if you spelled them out phoenetically you would see they are quite different.

When you can hear and understand Hushedwhispers (nobody actually speaks the language) you have to learn the other 'words/phrases/sentences' used commonly in Hushedwhispers. An eyebrow arched in your direction, combined with the correct Hushedwhispers translation of your name, means either "That guy over there" if you are not acquaitances with the people talking, or "[Insert your name here]. Look, he's sitting over there." Arms up in the air in a shrugging motion can mean "I don't know" (or variation); "I don't know what he was thinking" (or variation); "I don't know why in the hell he did that" (or variation); "I don't know who the fuck he is" (or variation) and so on.

When you have reached a casual listening level, you can begin listening to conversations for extended periods of time, as long as you look natural and occupied around the people in dialogue. I like to carry one book for pleasure, at least one piece of homework to work on, and a pad of paper. You can carry more, but the rest of my bag is filled with handi-wipes, antibacterial soap (I keep it in a glass jam jar), and Kleenex. I need those things more.

Because I can't forget, you can't forget, that nothing in my life at that point is a priority, NOTHING, except remaining clean, pure, through physical cleansing, as well as careful evaluation of and repetition regarding the events of any day.

With all the other shit going on here, it may seem like that's in the background sometimes.

And sometimes, for small fleeting moments, during a sitcom you like, or when you're talking to someone, or when you're doing something mindless, like a crossword puzzle, it is. But only for a second before it comes screaming back, and you chastise yourself when you realize all the things you're going to have to go back and do again because you didn't do them in threes that time, or didn't wash your hands before picking up the soap, or you touched your eye with a finger that clearly brushed up against the backside of a man in the elevator seconds before, and how the hell are you supposed to clean out your eye?

And on and on. Throughout the day. Always there. It becomes a friend. But not all friends are good for you.

You have to remember, you are seeing a rare few moments where my mind gained a little solitude from Friend. And even then, as I look back, I'm doing some fucked up shit. But not as fucked up as what I'm doing right now.

My girlfriend, who I shot in the head from point blank range no less than five minutes ago, just coughed.

Chapter 7

It's one thing when people can tell just by looking at you that you're different.

Not me, though. I wear the same t-shirts, the same baggy pants. My style is non-descript. Blend in. Camouflage for the unwashed masses.

Short hair, nothing fancy, nothing I even need to run a comb through in the morning. People used to call it a buzz cut, but now so many people I go to school with sport them that it's become the norm, and there is no reason to distinguish the norm from the abnorm with a name, because it blends in. It's ignored.


You can only tell I'm different by really watching me, and high school kids are about one step below paramecium in their ability and/or propensity to pick up knowledge through careful, analytical observation. Plus, I have my 'quirks,' and I have them so rehearsed that I can pull them off naturally. I watch people walking into the classroom, waiting for a time I can go in and stop-start-stop-start in the doorway--my prerequisite number of times to enter any room—without anyone knowing any different. Touched a desk without wiping it down? No problem! I just head to the bathroom, act like I'm taking a piss, and then wash my hands. Nobody will bother someone because they washed their hands after taking a piss. A couple of people have said things about my hands being too dry. So I started lathering them in Vaseline and sticking them in socks at night. Dry hands equal attention. No dry hands equal just another guy at school.

That day, I'm going through my ritual in the parking lot. After waiting for most of the students to leave, I begin my walk past the rows of parking spaces. I'm walking by, doing my look right, look left, look right, look left, look right, look left, alright next two rows, look right, look left thing, when I hear someone running up behind me.

"I'm Melissa," pants the girl from the other day in the library.

Somehow I manage to spit out a garbled version of my name. I don’t see how she can understand what I said, but she repeats it. It's been a long time since anyone has introduced themselves to me--no reason to introduce yourself to something in the background.

We stand there for a second. I shift on my feet. Ok, who's job is it to start the conversation? Anyone? Anyone?!?

"So you like Camus?"

I hear camels and think she's asking me out on a date, which makes me even more nervous and I slide back into a car and the alarm goes off, and I stutter, and she walks over to me, pulls at me to get me standing up.

"Are you alright?"

I tell her I like camels.

She laughs. "Me too. Maybe we should go to the zoo sometime. But I saw you taking Camus out of the shelf the other day in the library. Wondered what you thought of it?"

I panic. First I think she asks me on a date, panic, then find out she wasn't asking me, but then she does, and now I feel like a complete fool fool fool...

She doesn't call after me as I run. Just stands there, silent, watching, observing. More than I'd ever seen any of her peers observe anything. A part of me, a part I think used to speak up a little more a long time ago, screams for me to turn around, to get back to her, she obviously wanted to talk.

But the part of me I listen to at this stage in life says to run, and to count your footsteps in multiples of three, six, nine, yes that's right, eighteen, twenty-one, twenty-four...oh yeah, you know the way to rock my world...

Chapter 8

It isn’t long before I have tax-break foster parents. What that means is that the people who take me away after I’ve been in the foster home for a couple of months take in foster children for the tax breaks. In my short time at the home, I saw fifteen through seventeen year olds snatched up every day. You'd meet one, the next day they'd be gone. Most of them had been to jail a few times, and talked about life 'on the outside', and how rough it was, and all they wanted was a couple of tax breakers and a room of their own. Just kind of chill until eighteen. I always said it sounded good to me.

The thing is, the rest of these kids that I watched come and go every day, they were off the streets. Or tossed out by some other foster family. But me, my father had left without a single word. That meant baggage. That meant that I would be upset—possibly suicidal—and upset kids meant trouble. Most of these kids talked about doing nothing but sitting in their rooms, smoking dope, just relaxing until they could turn eighteen and hit the streets to be on their own. Because the tax breakers didn't give a shit, as long as you didn't give them any trouble.

"You don't talk much, do you," asks my foster dad Edward on our way home from the home.

I shake my head.

"That's a nice change of pace," he laughs, slugging his wife Tillie a little on the arm. She laughs too, and slugs him back.

"You can't hit the driver!" he shouts, happy as a little boy wrestling with his best friend. I have to smile a little.

She turns around. "Eddie thinks I talk too much. I say it's all relative. You like Einstein?"

I actually do. "Yeah."

"Smart kid. Well listen, let's get home, and you talk if you want, don't if you don't. What do you feel like eating?"

I shrug.

"We were thinking pizza."

I haven't had a pizza in over a month. I want it like dogs want bones.

Over pizza and a little beer, we talk about the rules of the house. Come and go as you please. In their opinion, my way of paying rent is the tax breaks they get, and they tell me that point blank, and that is that. But the only way it will work out for all of us is if I obey their rules. No smoking indoors (but I can do what I want with my lungs outside the house, even in the backyard). No parties (but I can have one or two people over at a time if I ask them and we stick around upstairs in my room). I think it's bullshit until they show me the eleven-hundred square foot loft that would be my home for the next two years. Last: use common sense when interpreting the rules; just because they didn't say I shouldn't smoke crack doesn't mean I should start up.

I like them because they don't say things over and over, and they make sense, and most of all, they seem to respect me.

What I see in my room now is a wall. There is a large vagina on the wall, the largest I've ever seen. That's because it's the biggest wall I've ever been able to use the projector on. I'm jerking off, watching these two men shove a beer bottle up this slut's pussy. She's not shaven, which I dig, and the guys are hung like horses, which I also kind of dig in a weird, guilty way. She's really getting off, and pretty soon, her juice is everywhere, all over the guys, and they're licking it off of her, and she's still moaning and cumming and the juice is running everywhere and the guys are both jerking off and then they cum, all over her tits and face and she's lathering herself up with it, rubbing it all over, massaging it into her skin, the whole time still moaning, and then I cum, all over the place, an unexpected, TNT-type of explosion, and just then the reel runs out and starts fap-fap-fapping on it's roll, and my eyes are closed tight throughout, and when I open them, Tillie is standing at the edge of my bed. The top of my erect cock hides her face from view, but the curly red hair is a dead giveaway.

She's looking at me, panting, and I search her face for anger, but I can't really look at her eyes, because she's looking down, but not down at the ground in shame of finding me this way.

She's looking at my cock.

"You can watch anything you want," she says. Her voice is sultry, different from when we were in the car earlier. Then it was chirpy, PTOish. Perfect mother. Now, she uses a voice I only hear on the porns I watch. "Just keep the volume down a little. Edward needs to sleep."

She looks me in the eyes for one second before she leaves, and smiles. Then, on her way out, she pats my bare foot a little. It almost feels like she rubs the bottom of it with her thumb, and this immediately makes me hard again. I watch her walk out, hips swaying underneath the shiny fabric of her gown. Her tits swing a little, and I realize they were a little bigger than I initially thought.

I listen to her go down the stairs. I count her steps. When she gets to thirteen, she stops. There are nineteen steps.

Shaking and thinking of her, I reach up and rethread the film. In less than a minute, it's ready to play, and she hasn't moved from the thirteenth step. I start it up, with the volume turned very low, so the only noises are so muffled I can barely hear them, and lay back down on the bed. She's left the door open. I start to jerk myself off again, a little sensitive to the touch after the first session, but get into it pretty quick, and I listen, and then she's moving down the stairs again, onto the carpet, where I can't hear her walking, but she's in my head, and there, I can see her naked.

Chapter 9

"Have you ever heard of obsessive compulsive disorder?" Mr. Granger asks me when I finally make it back to his office for our next meeting. I shake my head.

"Let me ask you something." He leans up on his desk, supporting himself with his hands. "Do you ever do anything that you don't think is necessary?"

"I'm here, aren't I?"

I didn't really mean it, I explain. Just seemed like the right answer at the time.

"I appreciate your honesty, but that isn't really what I mean. You know, like counting things, or washing your hands, or anything else that most people would not do?"

I nod. "Everyone has their quirks."

He shakes his head. "You use that word a lot, quirks. I do not think it means what you think it means."

"So what does it mean?"

"A quirk is a habit or practice someone has that may seem abnormal, but doesn't do any harm. It doesn't get in the way of normal life for a person."

"I don't see how my counting gets in the way."

He writes this down.

"So you do count things, is that what I'm hearing."

"Well, everyone counts. You can't make it through the day without counting."

"But you can't make it down the hall, correct?"

He's looking at me over his glasses. I feel like he's asking a rhetorical question.

"It's not that I can't, it's that I don't want to. I want to know what's there, I want to count. It's my meditation; it's the way I relax on the way from one class to another."

He shifts in his chair. "What about talking to friends? Do you ever talk to friends in between classes?"

I look down. "I haven't been here that long, and haven't had time..." but I can't finish because he's already writing.

"Can you stop that!" I yell.

He looks up. I'm more shocked by the outburst than he is.

"I'm sorry, but..." I sigh. "I'm supposed to be talking to you and I don't even feel like you're listening to me. Just writing things down. I can't even see what you’re writing down?"

He writes this down.

"No, you can't. I know it's frustrating, but I have to work like this. I can't tape you—because that's illegal—so I have to write down what you say because I may not remember it later, and it's later, when I'm pouring over all of this, that I really start listening to what you say. You might as well think of this time as me just collecting information."

"Then what the hell do I get out of it?"

He writes this down what seems like four or five times.

"You will hopefully get some decent advice and guidance by the time all of this is over. But for now, I have to learn more about you, about who you are, so I can try to figure out how to help you. Now, have you met any friends at school?"

Just a girl that turns me on so much I want to fuck the shit out of her every time I see her. I want to grab her tits and shove them in my face and suck until they're bright red with the blood running to the surface. I want to plant my dick so far inside her she screams with pain but asks for more. I want to make her feel me.

"Yeah, a girl."

"What's her name?"


He does not write this down.

"Melissa who. Is she your year?"

"She's a senior."

He puts down his pen and stares at the wall, over my head. I turn to see if there's anything of interest there, but it's just a blank wall, covered with the institutional white paint that lined the halls of the school.

"Melissa Cantrell?"

It catches me off guard. "Actually, I don't think I know her last name. I mean, I don't know her last name."

He writes this down. I wonder if he's left her name out.

"Good. Friends are good. Melissa is a good kid. Tell me something, how is your life with your new foster parents?"

Seems okay, except it seems like my foster mother is kind of kinky, and I'd like for her to come up to my room one night and watch some pornos with me, and then fuck me, I want her to fuck me, to fuck me rotten, to leave me so sore that I might have to call in sick from school the next day, or at least walk around kind of funny.

"Fine, so far. Nothing special. They give me my space."

He writes this down.

"Now you know that nothing you say here goes anywhere else, right?"

I don't give much thought to the question when I shake my head yes.

"Good. So how is your sex life?"

"My sex life?"

"Yes. Are you sexually active, or not?"

It catches me off guard.

"You mean, do I have sex with people?"

He nods.

"No, I've never had sex with anyone," I say.

He writes this down. Then he takes off his glasses.

"You don't have to answer this question if you don't want to. I really shouldn't be asking you, but I trust you. I don't think you're the kind of kid who's going to run out of here shouting that you were asked an uncomfortable question. I don't think there are uncomfortable questions for you.”

He waits for me to say something, but there’s nothing for me to say. He’s right.

"Do you think of sex as something dirty?"

My answer is no. He sighs, relieved. The bell for lunch rings, and he asks me if I'd like to see him again the next week, and I say yes, because I have a couple of questions to ask, and as far as I can tell, Mr. Granger is the only person who might give me a straight answer.

Chapter 10

There are three main places you touch a woman to get her off. I know this because it is what my foster mother tells me the first night we fuck.

Tits: you touch the tits how the woman wants you to.

"In fact," says my foster mother as she slides into bed next to me that night, "you do everything like the woman wants it. Let her tell you. As for you…"

I feel her hand on my crotch. My dick immediately leaps from the front of my open boxer shorts. She laughs.

"That's the thing about you young men—you're always ready for action. Now relax, and..."

I come. I come all over the place, all over her hands, the sheets, myself. She giggles--she stifles her giggles, they are so powerful--and just starts wiping me off on the sheet.

"Don't laugh at me!" I whimper, still conscious of the importance of keeping volume to a minimum while Edward sleeps below. I finally know what it is like to be on the other side of a conversation spoken in Hushedwhispers. I start sobbing like a baby, and she turns sympathetic, and holds me, lets me cry into her, and I don't know for how long, but by the time I am done, the film on the reel we'd been watching is flapping.

"Feel better?" she asks.

"I'm sorry," and I start to stand up and take the sheets off the bed.

"Wait," She orders.

I stop.

"You haven't learned your lesson."

For a second I think she is going to spank me, and I try to decide whether that's something I want or don't want, but then I remember the three places.

"Oh," I manage.

"Now, for review," and she walks toward me, "What is the first place to touch a woman so she comes?"

"Tits," I smile.

"Very good. The second place is her love button, way up inside the pussy. Sit down, I'll show it to you."

She pushes me down on the bed so I'm laying down, then straddles my face and sticks her fingers inside her pussy. She separates the lips and asks if I see a little button. I tell her that it's too dark. She tells me to feel for it.

I probe softly, exploring. She lets me. I study the outside with my fingers for a while, and eventually go inside with one, until I find a small, hard nub in the soft flesh, and when I probe at that, she lets out a moan like I'd never heard on porns. She begins to buck against my finger, moaning in rhythm, until she bites her finger so the moans aren't so loud. Finally, she bucks so far forward that she almost falls. Holding herself against the wall, she makes a noise almost like someone choking, but inside out.

She looks down at me, a lone tear falling down her cheeks. "Amazing," she says, her hand finding my cock through my shorts, "You are a clever one," and then she gives up the search altogether, rips my shorts down my legs just past my knees with both hands, and starts sucking me off.

Right when I'm so hard I think I'm going to bust (except, after the initial explosion, I don't have anything to bust with) she takes her mouth off and jumps on my cock, and I feel myself in her, and she starts to buck immediately.

"You have a decent-sized cock," she says nonchalantly in the midst of moans of pleasure. "But that doesn't mean you can work it. You have to be able to feel where to put it in any woman to really get her off, and for me, its right here!"

She bucks a little bit farther forward than she had before, and then comes down hard. I feel the tip of my dick hit something, and on the second thrust I come, a flood of it from I don't know where, and the more there is, the more it seems to like it, and she bucks a couple more times, but by this time I'm done and so spent that just the feeling of being inside her has me shaking, and she gets off and collapses on the bed.

"I came too quick," I say.

"No, no, that's the beauty part!" She turns to me and puts her head on her hand. "You got me off before you came—that's the important thing! Because I told you how. But some girls, they aren't comfortable enough with themselves, or they just don't know their bodies well enough, but they won't tell you what it takes to make them feel special inside. So it's your responsibility to be able to figure out, instantly, how to get them off. And I'll teach you that while you're here, if you want."

I consider this for a millisecond and turn back to her. "I need a towel," I say.

"Use the sheet."

I need a towel, I want to yell. You don't fucking understand! I can't use a sheet that you are laying on naked to wipe off what I piss with. No way!

I stop then, realizing that, in the court of law, this is my mother telling me what to do.

A legal guardian can go a long way.

Under her advice, I wipe off with the sheet, three good swipes, and turn back to her, trying to avoid the wet spot. "What's the third place?"

"I thought you'd never ask!" she squeals. "Turn on one of your movies and I'll show you."

I stand and get out my favorite, "Surprise Party," and set it up on the reel. From behind me, my foster mother says, "And skip it to the juicy stuff, huh?" and I nod, not looking back, because I can tell she is moving around on the bed, and something tells me it would be wrong to look at what she's doing. It is only when I hear her squirting some of my lotion out that I turn around. She's in doggy position and reaching back, rubbing lotion all around her asshole.

"It's a fact of life," she says when she notices my shocked face. When my expression doesn't change, she says, "Trust me. You're going to love it. The guys on these movies do."

I look at the film. The surprise party is in full swing, and the host and guest of honor have just been matched for seven minutes in heaven, but decide to go at it in front of everyone. Right when everyone else joins in on the orgy I feel her hand on me.

She leads me to the bed and gets back into position. She pulls me further. I get up on the bed, awkward, almost falling, so she scoots up a little, and then I have plenty of room (I found out the next time she had intended me to stand, but didn't have the heart to say) and she guides me into her. I shiver at what I'm doing, but my 'mom' told me to do it, she said it's ok, and somehow, repeating that thought throughout the act, I'm able to forget about all the germs and shit and everything else and realize that what she said earlier, it's right.

I love it.

Chapter 11

I know the girl sitting outside Mr. Granger's office the next day.

"Hey you!" she says. "Like Camus?"

Sounds a little rehearsed, I say.

"Well, it's just that I've been trying to ask you about it for so long, but you keep ducking me. I thought," she said pensively, "that maybe there was something wrong with the mirrors in my house."

"What do you mean?"

"Well, I mean, I thought, maybe these mirrors are tricking me, you know? Like, maybe I'm not a beautiful girl after all. Maybe the mirrors are programmed or enchanted or something to show me a beautiful girl, when I'm really an ugly piece of shit. Then I thought, no way, what about all the other mirrors in the world, but then, what if there is a curse on me, so that every mirror I look into shows me what I wish I looked like, but then I thought no, what about my family and friends, they wouldn't lie to me, but maybe they would, you know?"

She stands there, as serious as possible for a second, then bursts out laughing. "Good one, huh?" she says.

I look at her, speechless.

"You know, you know," she says, waving her hands in the air and rolling her eyes. "I'm acting crazy? I kind of figured you thought I was waiting to see Granger and supposed I was crazy."

Still blank.

She sighs, gives me that oh-I-forgot-you're-new-here look. "The only people who see Mr. Granger are kids the teachers think are crazy. You know, nutballs?"

I nod. I know nutballs, alright.

She shakes her head. "Anyway, what are you here for?"

First thought that comes to mind. "Just passing through."

"It is a good shortcut," she says. "Walk me to class?"

She takes my hand and leads me off in the opposite way from where I was headed. I turn around to look at Mr. Granger's door, and he's standing there with one of those I'm-disappointed-but-that's-too-cute-to-get-mad looks.

"I want to see you sometime," she says as we file past the other ants on their way to second period.

Now I know she's asking me out, so I start counting steps, one, two, three...

"You know, a date. How about tonight?"

I nod.

"Well?" she says after a while. She's still not looking at me.

"Yes," I gulp.

"We're here."

People are filing into the class, all seniors. She turns and looks me in the eyes. I'm trapped in her gaze.

"Here's my number," she says, pulling out a marker and grabbing my hand. When she's done, she caps the marker, and kisses me on the lips. Oohs and cat calls spring into the air around us.

"Shut up," she says to some of the passing people, laughing. Then she turns to look at me again.

"Call me after school," she says. "I want to see you."

She touches my hand and before I know it, my dick is standing straight on end. As soon as she's out of sight, I run, covering my crotch with my chemistry book, to the bathroom. I jerk off really quick in one of the stalls without a door before going to see Mr. Granger and try to explain to him why I missed our appointment.

I call Melissa as soon as I get home from school.

"That was fast!" she says.

I explain that I live really close to school.

"Me too. You aren't in the Contour complex, are you?"

I tell her no, I'm not sure what a contour complex is.

"My apartment complex. I stay here with my mom."

The way she says 'stay here' makes it sound like she's more tenant than daughter.

"Why don't you come over to my place first?" she says. "We'll have a drink or something before we go out."

I ask her how to get there from school. She tells me, says she needs to shower, cook dinner for her mom, who works nights, and eat with her, and then she'd be ready, probably around seven.

I'm pretty far from my house, and I only have enough cash for a taxi one way, so I slink around that part of town for a while, walking, counting, trying to find patterns of three in things around me. I have to stop every now and then to use a bathroom and wash my hands, though most of the places I stop are so dirty they leave me with a worse feeling of filth than I had going in.

I start walking to her place at about fifteen until seven, and by the time I get to the complex, find her building, and scale the steps to the third floor, it's three minutes after seven.

"Come in!" she yells when I knock on the door.

The apartment is nice, average. There is a light on under the door of a room down the hall.

"I'm back here!" she yells.

I walk back and open the door, then immediately close it. She is standing in her bra and panties in front of a mirror.

"Sorry, sorry, sorry. I should have knocked."

She pads to the door and throws it open. She stands in her bra and panties, staring at me like I'm an idiot.

"Come in here silly," she says, and drags me into her room by my hand.

She turns around, faces the mirror, and begins combing her hair.

"How's it going?" she asks.

Fine, I manage while I take in the contour of her ass.

"You get here ok?" she asks.

I nod as I trace the lines of her back all the way down her legs.

"Geez," she says, and I realize she is looking at me looking at her. "It's like you've never seen a woman before."

I instantly realize that I've been so nervous and concentrating on counting steps that I didn't enter any of the doors in her house three times and I jump up and yell that I'll be right back, and run out of the room, three times, and out of the apartment, three times, back in, three, in the room, three, and then I sit down on the edge of the bed and make an effort to avoid her gaze.

"You are truly bizarre," she says. It doesn't sound admonishing. In fact, it sounds kind of like a compliment.

She turns around and begins work on her hair again. She applies a small amount of makeup while she talks, but not too much.

"I was thinking about Campisi's," she says. "It's an Italian restaurant down the road, pretty nice. You like Italian?"

"Yeah," I finally manage to speak.

"Good deal. Let me put on my clothes," and she looks at herself in the mirror, licks her lips, turns to face me and claps, "And we'll be ready to go!"

I'm ready to go right now, I think, hoping my erection will go down before I have to stand up.

Chapter 12

"Why?" asks my girlfriend, blood spurting from her mouth when she says it.

To answer, I point the gun at the guy lying on the ground next to her, but then I realize she can't see, what with all the blood in her eyes.

"Why did you fuck him?" I yell.

"Same reason I fucked you," she manages. "For fun. For the hell of it."

I ask if she had sex with him.

"They're the same fucking thing!!!" she screams. She's said it to me time after time; this is the only time she's mad about it.

"They're the same fucking thing," she repeats, coughing in the middle on a stream of blood shooting out of her mouth. "No matter how much they mean to a person, sex and fucking boil down to the same thing."

I put my head in my hands, let out a scream. "But they aren't—they may be the same physically, but even then, there are times..."

"Just because there is emotional meaning behind a sex act doesn't make it different than any other sex act."

I scream again, and, not realizing I have my finger on the gun trigger, squeeze, and fire a shot into the ground next to me. The mystery comes back then: how many shots do I have left?

"What the fuck!" yells the bastard. "What the fuck, what the fuck, what the fuck! What the fuck is going on?!?"

"We're dealing with a really messed up guy here," says Melissa. "Not only has he learned about sex..."


"Fucking!" she blurts, a bubble of blood forming around her mouth, and as she breathes out, it expands, and the portion of our world that it highlights turns a ghastly red. She breathes in and it collapses on itself and into her mouth, and she gags, then continues. "Not only has he learned about fucking solely through watching pornography, he's got some mental disorder."

"It's called OCD," I mumble.

She laughs through her blood. "It's called fucked, that's what it's called."

"It's called obsessive compulsive disorder," said Mr. Granger about a month before all this gunplay and attempted murder (at least up to this point) had started. Before the really intense fucking happened, before I got so deep into sex that I couldn't climb out, I went in to see Mr. Granger. This was the night after I fucked my foster mother.

"That sounds bad," I reply.

"It can be, if it isn't treated. It can seriously impair someone's quality of life and ability to think logically, to extrapolate the right data from erroneous conversations."

I nod, understanding what he's talking about, especially the last part. He stares at me. "What?" I say after a few moments. "Am I breaking out?"

"How did you understand the last thing I said, um, I can't remember it exactly..."

" 'Extrapolate the right data from erroneous conversations'? "
"Yeah," he smiles. "That."

I shrug. "Well, I could be wrong, that could mean a couple of different things, but given the context, and some things I might have said to you before, I thought it was about me listening in on Hushedwispers conversations."

He nods. "It was. Those are just words that most people your age aren't familiar with."

He is careful never to say the word 'kids' or children. Always, 'people your age,' or 'people between the ages of x and y'. But never anything demeaning, patronizing, like kids, or my personal favorite, young'uns.

"I used to read a lot."

"But you don't anymore?" He begins to write again.

I shake my head.

"Why not?"

Because in the life of a book, more than five hundred different people touch that book. More if you get it from a library or buy it used. Not to mention the number of machines that touch it when it's made, or the people who made those machines, the people whose hands they shook that day, and on and on until infinity. Touching books is just one more thing I can avoid, that I don't have to mess with, that life doesn't force me to mess with, and I let them go.

"No time."

"No time," says Granger, and he flips back through the leaves of paper in my file, "and yet last Tuesday you said you had '...nothing but time. Time to count. Counting time fills it, and vice versa.' I'm still a little unclear on that last part..."

"Filling time counts it," I interrupt. "If you fill time with action, then dividing time between different actions is implicit. This is where you start doing one and stop doing another. Sometimes they overlap, but mostly it's a pretty clear start and stop. Counting is simply division of a whole into understandable parts; acting in time, or filling it, is the same."

"I see," he writes furiously, then looks up. "But that wasn't what I was going to ask—you interrupted me."


"That's ok. What I want to know is why you said you had nothing but time on your hands last week, and now you can't even pick up a book because you're so busy?"

"Things have changed in this past week."


I shrug.

He closes his file. "I think you should go see a psychologist. This obsessive compulsive disorder, I think you might have it. In fact, I'd bet my job on it. If you can get help there, things may start going better in other parts of your life."

"I don't believe in psychologists."

"Oh, they exist, I guarantee. I'm married to one. But you won't be seeing her. At any rate, this could help you immensely. I think you should go."

I stare at him.

"You realize I'm talking to you as a friend now, don't you? I can't force you to do anything. You can go or not go—it's up to you. And your foster parents, of course, but from what you said about them, I don't think they would care much."

That last part is almost hurtful. Then who?

"So you decide. Sleep on it—this isn't something that has to be taken care of overnight. But the sooner the better. Because when you let something like this get a hold of you, when it takes over," he sighs and looks down at his hands, "it can ruin a lot of different parts of your life."

He's still looking down at his hands when I decide to ask my question, the question that had been bothering me for years, but seems so much more important after I fucked my foster mother.

"Mr. Granger."


I sigh. I hope this isn't a question I should know the answer to. I don't feel like it is. "I've seen plenty of people fuck. I mean, I've watched the videos. And I fucked someone myself last night, and it was fun and all, but I'm waiting for this one great thing—sex—that everyone keeps talking about. I kind of think it's like fucking, but it's different, you know?"

He looks up from his hands.

"Mr. Granger," I ask, hoping I will leave here with more knowledge than I had when I came in, "What the fuck is sex?"

Chapter 13

Melissa fucks different than my foster mother.

It's hard to say what the difference is exactly. I don't have too much to compare it with. Forced to describe it, I would say Melissa is sort of clumsy, but a little more enthusiastic. With her, things feel more…organic.

During our dinner at the Italian restaurant, Melissa talks constantly. As much as I try to listen and participate, I can't keep my mind off the utensils in front of me. How could I know if they had been cleaned properly? In the life of a restaurant fork, thousands of people put that fork in their mouths. A restaurant plate, which usually has a longer life then the fork, can have tens of thousands of meals served on its surface. A restaurant glass is the worst. They are never cleaned properly. More often than not, they are simply emptied, dipped in a vat of tepid soapy water, rinsed, and left out to dry. The glass is the Petri dish of the restaurant world.

Even though I barely touch my food and have to leave three times to go to the bathroom and wash my hands, Melissa assures me that she is having a great time. When we walk out of the restaurant and get in her car, she asks me if I have to go home.

"Well, I have to go home at some point…" I answer, confused about the question.

"You are so weird," she says. As usual, it sounds like a compliment coming from her. "What I mean is, can you come back to my place for a little bit?"

She puts her hand on my leg, and rubs it a little with her thumb. I smile, and mumble that I suppose I can come over.

About an hour later, we're in her bed, and she's going down on me, and I'm thinking about two things: how good it feels, and how she washes her sheets.

Anything that comes in contact with your body, in my opinion, needs to be washed with the hottest water possible, as well as antibacterial laundry soap. And you can't simply throw the laundry into the machine and assume the water is hot enough. After all, if someone has just taken a shower, there may not be any hot water left. To make sure all bacteria is destroyed; you have to make sure that the water coming out of the washing machine is as hot as possible. It only took me a little bit of time at the foster home to realize that not everyone shares the same opinion as I do when it comes to washing things. And that's scary.

When Melissa quits going down on me and gets on top of me, I start to forget about laundry.

This is after Mr. Granger told me that he couldn't talk to me about sex—it could get him fired. This is after I tell him I don't know who to ask, and he tells me I should talk to my foster parents. This is before I decide to find out for myself what sex is all about.

The lights are off in Melissa's bedroom, but when she gets on top of me, she says she wants to turn one on so she can see me and I can see her. She reaches over and turns on the lamp on her bedside table. The room fills with shadows. Our audience.

As I stand at the top of the hill, the gun heavy in my hand, Melissa's labored breathing sending ripples through the pools of blood collected beneath her, I wonder how things would have been different if I had learned about sex before I went on my date with Melissa. Before I went on my date, I knew two things about sex: it was something people liked to do, and it had something to do with fucking.

After my date, I go home. My foster parents are out for the evening. I decide to find out for myself, once and for all, what sex is.

I go to the computer and type the word into a search engine.

It turns out that I had been having sex. I'd had sex with my foster mother, as well as Melissa. Sex and fucking, for the most part, are the same thing.

That's interesting, I think, as I browse through more pages on the subject, reading about positions, legal implications of sex (I laugh when I realize that, in some places, having sex with my foster mother would be illegal because of my age), and sex in religion. It's interesting, and for a brief moment, I relax in my newfound knowledge, happy that an answer to a question nobody would answer for me has been discovered.

But only for a brief moment. Because the next topic on the page I'm reading is "Sexually Transmitted Diseases."

Something in my stomach twists, and for a moment, I think I'm going to throw up. The feeling increases as I read.

Chlamydia. It can cause infertility in women. In men, it can cause painful discharge from the penis. An estimated three million people in the United States have the disease. One out of every one hundred.

Gonorrhea. In men, it can cause painful, colorful discharge from the penis. An estimated one million people get this disease every year. That's one in three hundred people.

Viral hepatitis—you can die from this one. It affects the liver. It's all over the place. Even being in the same house as someone with hepatitis puts you at risk of contracting the disease.

Genital herpes. The most common STD there is. One out of every five adults in America has it. And you can't get rid of it.

Before I can read anymore, I'm in the bathroom. Checking to see if my eyes are still white (the liver problems associated with hepatitis can make them turn yellow). Looking for spots on my dick with a magnifying glass. Forcing myself to pee so I can find out if it stings. I think it does, but I'm not sure if it is because I've caught something, or because of the force I use to get it out.

That night, I sit in the shower until all the hot water is gone. No matter how much I scrub, no matter what I do, I can't feel clean. I've exposed myself to disease. After all my work, after everything I've done to make sure I kept germs and bacteria out of my body, I've made the one mistake that could completely fuck me over. For good.

The website assures me that if I take precautions such as wearing a condom, I can still have a healthy and satisfying sex life. Which raises the question—in the life of a condom, how many people come in contact with it before I use it? Because if just one of those people has one of these diseases…

When my foster parents come home that night, they find me still in the shower. The water is cold, but it doesn't bother me. My foster mother turns it off and stands me up, wrapping me in a towel, while my foster father keeps asking what's going on, what's wrong with me.

"I think I want to kill myself," I finally explain to him.

The next day, I don't go to school. Together, they drive me to a small office in a strip mall. That's where I meet my psychiatrist.

- E. Branden Hart

An Audience of Shadows will continue next Wednesday.



it's back!


New chapters every week until its done--I promise!


Keep em coming man, I love these.


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