THE DEFINITION OF PERVERSION
perversion | pərˈvərZHən |
1 the alteration of something from its original course, meaning, or state to a distortion or corruption of what was first intended: a scandalous perversion of the law| all great evil is the perversion of a good.
2 sexual behavior or desire that is considered abnormal or unacceptable.
15,244: Number of residents
26.6: Median age of residents
$15,372: Average household income
64.8%: Poverty ratio
1: Score on the safe cities scale(100 being the safest)
“Evil has no substance of its own, but is only the defect, excess, perversion, or corruption of that which has substance.”
~John Henry Newman
For years, the streets of Lacking ran red. The violence escalated with each passing day. Bodies riddled with bullet holes were left to rot on the streets and sidewalks. As a warning. A sign of power.
A message stating who really gets to decide on matters of life and death.
People in this graffiti-covered town grew fearful of the constant bloodshed, the never-ending stream of bullets whizzing by, walking into the wrong territory at the wrong time, wearing the wrong color, saying the wrong thing. Not pledging the correct allegiance to the person holding the fucking gun in their mouths.
People stopped leaving their homes after dark.
Some stop leaving them all together.
The only law here is gang law. Justice comes in the form of a bullet or blade. It’s the wild west meets the aftermath of the motherfucking apocalypse.
I was one of those reasons why people were so fearful to leave their own homes.
Murder surges through my veins like a derailed train.
You can’t do something well if you weren’t born with a piece of that something inside of you. If it were anything else, like art or business, people would call what I have a talent. A passion. I’m no fucking artist. I’m no accountant. My business is revenge. It’s what I thrive on. Taking lives to save the lives of those in the Brotherhood to make a point. To send my own message.
For the sheer fucking pleasure of it.
It’s what I was made to do.
If it were the middle ages, I’m confident I’d be the man in the heavy hood, lobbing people’s heads off at the king’s command. I have the stomach for it. The tenacity.
They call me Grim.
I’m the executioner for the Bedlam Brotherhood.
Death is upon you if you see me coming.
You’ll never see me coming.
After the Governor threatened to send in the national guard, a truce was reached on all three sides.
Since then, all has been quiet.
If you listen closely you can almost hear the guns reloading.
Click click clack.
Click click clack.
The truce was for one year.
It’s been ten months.
Sixteen Years Old
Emma Jean Parish had wild curly hair and an attitude to match.
We met when she forced her pussy on me. Her cat. A mangy little thing with anger issues almost as bad as mine.
It was moving day.
I was loading the single garbage bag containing all my possessions into the car of a stranger named Marci. She’d popped up out of nowhere like the ghost of unwanted children’s past and told me I was coming with her.
Just like that.
From the way Marci talked about her place, I figured it was some sort of transitional home for kids like me. Too old to get adopted and too troubled for anyone to voluntarily take on. I didn’t ask her anything else, not just because I knew I really don’t have a fucking choice, but because I didn’t talk. It wasn’t that I couldn’t. I just didn’t.
Words don’t mean anything. After you realize that, you find the need to speak more of a bullshit burden than a tool to communicate.
Besides, I was a kid in the system. I went where they took me and every few months they took me somewhere new.
Sometimes I hated it.
Sometimes I really hated it.
This time was different. In more ways than one. Usually, I was dropped off by my caseworker, and the people receiving me were about as excited as they were about junk mail.
No one has ever come to pick me up before.
As long as she wasn’t sizing me up for a skin suit, it didn’t matter. I was itching to get out of the fucking boys’ home. Especially since I wasn’t really a boy. And even when I was, I never really felt like one.
I was about to go back into the boys’ house where Marci was talking to my caseworker about my transition and probably my behavioral problems—record, problems with authority, anger issues, lack of communication skills, etc—when I spotted her.
A girl a few years younger than me, stood across the narrow street looking both ways slowly and cautiously, repeating the process twice more before suddenly sprinting across like it was a busy highway and not a small, unpaved, rarely traveled road.
Crazy, honey-blonde curls stuck out from her head at every angle, a cross between Little Orphan Annie and Medusa. Hair meant for a doll, not a living, breathing, human kid. And this one was cradling a little, tiger-striped pussycat in her arms. Tears streamed down her red blotchy face. Teeth marks marred her bottom lip where she’d been biting down to try and hold back the flood. She wore long, ripped, denim shorts that grazed the top of her knees with an oversized t-shirt tied in a knot at the side of her hip. Whatever logo used to be printed on the front was so faded it was no longer legible.
“Hey mister!” she called, coming to a stop on the sidewalk in front of me.
I looked to my left and right, then over my shoulder, but there was no one else around. I was sixteen. There was no way she could be talking to me, but then she came huffing and puffing right up the driveway until she was standing before me. Her humungous eyes were too big for her face, a deep, tear-filled blue-green.
I tied the top of the garbage bag in a tight knot and gave her a what do you want look.
She held the kitten in a choke hold around its neck, legs dangling in the air, but oddly enough the thing didn’t seem to mind. When the girl got closer, the little shit hissed at me. The girl giggled loudly. I shifted uncomfortably, not used to such a sound.
Her laugh was gone as quickly as it came. Her expression turned very serious as if she remembered something.
“My foster mama, Aunt Ruby, said I can’t keep Mr. Fuzzy.” She sniffled. “She…she said I gotta give him…” She breathed in a shaky breath and clutched the little fur-ball tighter to her chest. Her shoulders shook as she cried.
I crossed my arms over my chest. Maybe, it was because behind her giggles and tears for Mr. Fuzzy, I spotted a familiar sadness.
She glanced at the house. “You’re a foster kid, too, right?”
“You can’t talk?” she asked, without judgment.
I didn’t shake my head or nod. It’s not a yes or no question. It wasn’t that I couldn’t talk. It’s just that I didn’t.
She looked me over, taking in the sketchy tattoos on my arms. They were all done by thugs and wannabe artists during my many visits to juvenile detention centers around the state. They were just a bunch of crooked scratches dug into my skin, done with paperclips or sharpened pencils then rubbed in with pen ink. I planned to get them covered up one day with something compelling, epic, and meaningful.
As soon as I had something like that in my life.
The girl glanced down at the cat then back up to my face, her long eyelashes wet with fresh tears. What the fuck did she want with me? Even though it was nearly ninety degrees outside, I raised the hood of my sweatshirt up over my head to separate myself from all the emotion standing in front of me.
“You…you okay, mister?” She wiped her red nose with the back of her hand.
What the fuck is wrong with this girl? She was the one crying, and she was asking if I was okay?
I didn’t know shit about kids, even though I was technically still one myself
I slammed the trunk of Marci’s car. The license plate, adorned by a bleeding black rose around the stamped numbers, rattled with the force. I turned my back on the girl and started up the driveway.
“Wait! Wait! Don’t go! We haven’t been properly introduced.” She ran around and threw herself in front of me to keep me from heading back into the house. She shifted the cat to the crook of one arm and extended her hand. “I’m Emma Jean Parish. I just turned twelve, and I like magic and reading. I also like fairytales even though Aunt Ruby says I’m too old to like ‘em. Also, I don’t like scary movies or yelling,” she rambled. “What about you?”
She offered me a small, sad smile and sniffled, her hand dangling in the air.
I sighed heavily. I knew from the determined look in the girl’s eyes that she wouldn’t scram until I answered. I glanced down at her hand and raised an eyebrow.
“You don’t gotta talk if you don’t want to. Do you sign?” She asked and I realized she was looking straight at me so I could read her lips. “I learned how to sign the alphabet from an old encyclopedia. I can spell things out, but I don’t know much else.”
She thought I was deaf.
A lot of people did at first.
When I was first put into the system, they placed me in an American sign language class because they thought I didn’t know how to communicate. While I was in there, I picked up a thing or two.
She began to spell out the same thing she just said with the hand not choking the kitten. Her tongue hung out the side of her mouth as she concentrated on making each letter perfect. If she continued like that, she was never going to leave.
Frustrated, I blurted out, “Tristan. And I’m not deaf.”
The sound of my own voice, which hasn’t rattled my eardrums in years, startled me as much as it did her.
“Tristan?” She smiled, cocking her head to the side. “You’re not deaf?”
I shook my head.
“Tristan,” she repeated. She reached out and removed my arm from my chest until she freed my hand. She shook it with more force than most grown men, but that wasn’t what shocked me.
It was the zap of her skin on mine. The feeling of something shattering all around me until gone. I was too young to be having a stroke, so what the fuck was that?
I stared down at our connected hands in wonder. It’d been a long time since I’d spoken and even longer since I let anyone touch me. That’s all the feeling was. I shook it off, but the current still hummed between us.
“Funny, you don’t look like a Tristan.”
No. I didn’t. I looked like a criminal. A thug. Although, I did agree with her. I never cared for my name. Tristan sounded like someone who went to a fancy private school and did his homework before lacrosse practice. Not someone who spent more time in a cell than a classroom and the only time he ever touched a pencil was to sharpen it into a weapon.
“I like it though,” she mused, stroking the kitten. “I mean, it’s a nice name. Not for you, though. You might want to look into that.” She pressed her lips to the cat’s head.
I lit a cigarette. Over Emma Jean’s head, I spied my social worker inside, sitting at the table and talking Marci politely while smiling and nodding. I hoped they’d hurry up so I could finally get the fuck out of there.
I leaned back against the black Firebird and took a deep drag, wishing I hadn’t sold the last of my weed this morning to Mr. Arnold, the eighty-year-old man who lived next to the boy’s home.
“You even gonna ask why I’m so upset?”
I shook my head, but Emma Jean continued anyway.
“You see, it’s because of Mr. Fuzzy here. By chance, do you know anyone looking for a pet kitten? ‘Cause Auntie Ruby says if I don’t get rid of him today, she’s taking it to the the…the shelter.” She squeezed the cat who hissed and wiggled, but she held on tight, unaware that she was practically crushing the thing. “And…and…” she began to sob again. Her face reddened. Her mouth opened wide, and she closed her eyes as she started to bawl.
I scratched my wrist under the sleeve of my hoodie. Shit, I didn’t know what to do when kids cried. How the fuck do you turn it off? I glanced around hoping that someone was going to come take her away, but there was no one.
“So, do you? Know of anyone who can take Mr. Fuzzy? He’s a really nice kitty.”
Mr. Fuzzy disagreed with a hiss.
I shook my head again.
Emma Jean’s deep blue-green eyes were already huge, but they grew even more significant with her panic. The crying only became louder. She reached out with her free hand and grabbed my arm once again. The zap between us happened again, stronger this time like I’d stuck a dime in a light socket.
Why the fuck does she keep touching me?
I wanted to peel her hand off my arm, but she was locked on like a pit bull’s jaw in a dogfight, and I couldn’t pry her off without breaking one of her fingers.
Hurting a girl would land me back in juvie, and I’d only just gotten out. No way did I want a return trip so soon, especially since the judge told me that the next time he saw me, he’d make sure I was tried as an adult.
I didn’t want to go back to juvie, but it would be a cakewalk compared to jail. I really didn’t want to go there.
“You don’t understand, Mr. Tristan! If Mr. Fuzzy doesn’t get adopted at the shelter, they’ll put him to sleep!” She sucked in a loud, shaky breath. “At first, that don’t sound so bad, you know, ‘cause who don’t need a good night sleep? Aunt Ruby is always sleeping or napping when she’s not at the casino over in Lacking, but my best friend Gabby Vega’s teacher volunteers at the shelter, and she told her it’s all just a lie they tell kids.”
She sucked in another shaky breath and leaned in closer, her grip tightened around my arm with every word. She lowered her voice to a whisper.
“Sleep don’t mean sleep at all, it means…” She finally released me to cover Mr. Fuzzy’s ears. I rubbed my arm. “It means they kill it.” She let out a strangled cry, covered her mouth with her hand and backed away a step. She looked up at me, pleading with her giant glassy eyes.
All I was thinking about was a way to get this girl to go home, but I wasn’t thinking fast enough because she’d started bawling again, the sound echoing between the houses.
I don’t ever show emotion, mostly because I don’t feel all that much, but this little shit had me clenching and unclenching my fists. I had to get the girl to shut the fuck up.
It’ll be okay? I said inside of my head, giving the girl a nonchalant shrug.
“How? How is it gonna be okay when Fuzzy’s nothing but worm food?” she wailed.
Fuck. Fuck. Fuuuuuuck.
I took another drag off my cigarette, holding the smoke deep in my lungs. Maybe, if I was lucky, I’d suffocate myself, and this would all be over.
I glanced into the kitchen window and met Marci’s gaze.
Fuck, I ain’t staying in the group home because of this fucking kid.
“Shut up,” I commanded. But my voice was low. Too low for her to have heard me. I barely heard myself.
“And nobody wants him!” she cried. She tipped her head, mouth open wide to the sky. Her shoulders fell in defeat, so low I swore they were about to hit the god damned ground.
I looked toward the house again. My case worker moved and was now standing at the window, pointing toward the scene that played out in front of me.
I waved for the girl to follow me to the side of the house, out of view of the window. She did. When we were safely out of sight from the kitchen window, I took a hissing Mr. Fuzzy from her arms.
Her smile brightened. She nodded enthusiastically. Her cries halted completely. Finally. I’d hit her off switch.
“You’ll take Fuzzy?” she said with a smile, exposing teeth too large for her head.
Emma Jean didn’t wait for an answer I wasn’t about to give.
“Yes! Thank you! Thank you!” she exclaimed, hopping up on her tip-toes to wrap her arms around me in a one-sided hug.
She lifted herself onto her toes to kiss me on the cheek, but I turned my head at the same time, and the kiss landed on my lips. I didn’t turn away. It was the shock that kept me immobile. She didn’t pull away either.
One second. Two. Three.
Fuzzy, squashed between us, meowed loudly. The front door opened and then closed. Emma Jean pulled away with her eyebrows knitted together in confusion.
I looked away just in time to hear the voices of Marci and my caseworker.
“Where did he go?” Marci asked, sounding concerned.
“Maybe, he ran away,” my caseworker said, casually. “We could call for him, but it’s not like he can answer. Are you sure you want to do this? It’s the ones who are slow, you know, mentally challenged, that seem to cause the most behavioral problems, and he’s already exhibited most of those problems. Big and dumb is a lot to take on without the added stress of violence he’s shown to be capable of.”
I chuckled. Like that bitch had any idea what I was truly capable of.
I looked down to Emma Jean who’d been listening intently to the conversation. Her face reddened. Her fists balled at her sides.
Marci began to speak, but Emma Jean jumped from the side of the house.
“How dare you!” she screamed, pointing an accusing finger at my caseworker. “Tristan isn’t dumb. You’re the dumb one because you don’t know shit.”
Shocked that a kid who didn’t know me beyond the past ten minutes was now defending me like she’s known me my entire life, I was both confused and amused.
“Who are you?” the caseworker asked in a practiced yet fake as fuck soft tone. She bent down and placed her hands on her knees, lowering herself to Emma Jean. “And, I’m sorry, but you’re wrong. He doesn’t talk, sweetie. I’ve been his caseworker for years. He’s never said a word.” She stood back up.
“Shows what you know.” Emma Jean placed her hands on her bony hips. “Lady, how the hell do you think I know his name is Tristan?” She waited a beat. “Oh yeah, because he TOLD me.”
“He…he talked?” she asked, eyes darting to me over Emma Jean’s shoulders.
“Duh.” Emma Jean rolled her eyes. “Did you ever stop to think that he doesn’t speak because he doesn’t want to talk to you? Or maybe while everyone else is yappin’ away with shit words and empty promises that maybe he’s keeping to himself because he doesn’t want to listen to your dirty whore mouth say one more meaningless thing?” She spoke as if she was not only defending me but somehow defending herself. “Tristan isn’t the stupid one.” She huffed. “That would be YOU!”
Holy. Fucking. Shit.
Marci stood behind the caseworker with her shoulders shaking in silent laughter, her hand covering her mouth.
Emma Jean bent over to tie her dirty shoe laces then leaped back up with her middle finger in the air while my caseworker stood frozen in stunned silence. Emma Jean lowered her hand, glaring hatred at my caseworker with her bulging jewel-toned eyes. Her stare was so powerful it beamed through the air like lasers. Her innocent tears from moments before now looked a lot more like experienced pain.
“In the words of the great Bob Dylan,” Emma Jean spat out at my caseworker, “‘Don’t criticize what you can’t understand.’”
Emma Jean looked to me while my caseworker picked her jaw up from the ground. She smiled sweetly at me. A completely different girl than the one crying over a cat. “See ya, Tristan!” Heading down the driveway, she called over her shoulder, “Take good care of him, lady!”
“I will, sweetheart,” Marci said with a laugh.
Emma Jean didn’t look both ways as she’d made a big show of doing earlier. She darted across the street and disappeared between houses without a glance.
The kitten in my arms hissed and clawed at the sleeve of my hoodie, reminding me of his presence. I adjusted him, but it only gave him more room to dig his claws into me deeper, cutting tiny slits into the thick cotton fabric and scratching my skin.
My caseworker grumbled to herself as she climbed into her Buick. “Good luck,” she muttered, before pulling out into the street and driving off. My eyes didn’t follow the car; I was still staring across the street where Emma Jean has disappeared.
What the fuck just happened?
“That was Miss Erikson getting her ass handed to her by a little girl,” Marci’s voice answered as if I’d spoken the question out loud. I turned my head and found Marci standing beside me, her hand on a sparkly black belt that hung from her hip. She glanced at Mr. Fuzzy. “And you being conned by one.” She smiled, tight-lipped like she was trying not to laugh although I wasn’t sure what the hell she found so funny. “I assume she cried and begged you to take this little fur ball, here.”
Fuzzy hissed again, pushing against my forearm with his hind legs.
“Fuck,” I swore, surprising myself yet again. Normally even my mental reactions were kept silent.
Marci didn’t correct my language, and her smile grew larger. “That little girl?” She raised her chin and joined me in looking across the road. “Just used one of the oldest cons in the book. Finding stray animals’ homes…” She pressed her closed fist against her lips, then shrugged. “By whatever means necessary.”
I glanced back down at the mangy thing in my arms, rolling my eyes at my own stupidity. Completely dumbfounded. The kid was a lot smarter than she’d let on.
I looked at Marci and then back across the road.
“Reminds me a lot of myself at that age,” she mused. “Those are the ones you gotta watch out for. A con artist with a heart.”
Emma Jean Parish. I talked to her. She touched me. She defended me. She kissed me.
SHE CONNED ME.
I was confused. Pissed off.
And kind of impressed.
“Aren’t you adorable.” Marci scratched the cat’s head and cooed. The little shit purred at her, leaning into her palm.
She took Mr. Fuzzy from my hands and held him against her chest. “That kind of girl is gonna either take over the world someday—” She lowers her sunglasses from the top of her head over her eyes. “—or be the one who fucking destroys it.”
I didn’t doubt that. Not for a second.
Marci walked around her Firebird and opened the driver’s door. “Come on, let’s get you home.”
Not A home. Not THE home.
“Oh, and you might want to check your wallet.” Marci got in the car with Fuzzy on her lap. She started the engine.
With the passenger door open, I dug my hand into the back pocket of my worn jeans.
Son of a fucking bitch.
It was the first time I was conned by Emma Jean Parish.
It wouldn’t be the last.
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