The light creeps into the dark, dingy space behind the drawn blinds. Clothes litter the floor as the invasion continues. The sun slipped over the dirty floor, up the twin bed into the eyes of the prone form sleeping there. Black goes to white, and the heat forces his eyes open. Letting out a low groan, the boy shifts to his other side, facing the wall away from the sun and its beams. Footfalls keep him from drifting back to his dreams.
The door creeks open, and the light of the cherry of a burning cigarette can be seen in the dark hallway. It grows brighter then swirls of smoke twirl in the rude sunlight. “Hey, get up.” The cigarettes slave said, “Get up, you sack of crap. I said, you worthless piece of crap, get your worthless butt out of that bed!”
The boy flipped over to face the foulness that entered his room, “I don’t have to today.”
That brought the unshaven, pock-marked, foul-breathed beast from the door to his bedside. “Look, you little pole smoker, I already had those drawer sniffers from school up my hindquarters about you skipping. If one of those do-gooders comes to my office again, you’ll be spending your time with that whore mother of yours.”
Clay kicked at the vile man at his bedside. “You don’t talk about her like that!”
The man grabbed the ankle of the boy kicking at him. “You ungrateful little douche. I’ll show you respect.” Taking the cigarette from his mouth, the man blew on the tip until it glowed a fierce crimson. With a glare, he jammed the hot end into the flesh of the leg above the ankle. The boy screamed. “You’re awake now, aren’t you? Now get the hell out of here and get to class.”
The boy sobbing, yanked his leg free from the hand of his tormentor and began to get dressed.
High up in a blue sky, the orange ball smiled on the green land below. It even smiled on the kid walking through the cemetery. His jean jacket, tattered and bit too small, compensated for whatever heat the sun failed to give. As he’s walking through, Clay stops at an extravagant floral arrangement sitting in front of a large gravestone. He picked out two of the larger flowers. Orange and black petal on a long green stem. He had seen them when visiting his grandparents, with his mother growing on the roadside. Sniffing the flower his continued to meander until stopping at a modest marker.
“Hi, mom. I miss you.” Clay sat down beside the stone, placing the flowers at the bottom of the plain stone. He kissed his finger and touched the name facing him upside down. “I know these are your favorite.”
After taking a moment, making sure to share memory in his head about his mom that made him smile, Clay stood and shoved his hand in his jacket pockets. He looked over the lush green burial ground, this was a good place. He stopped as he saw someone else in the yard. A pretty girl stood in front of gravestone down from where he was. Must be visiting someone too. He smiled but had that warm feeling disappear. Some punks stood at the gate, smoking, laughing, and roughhousing. Clay turned around and started toward the back of the cemetery.
“Hey, look! Its Gay Clay!” One of the guys from the group yelled.
“Let’s kick his ass!” Another said.
“Hell yeah!” Yet another said.
Clay stopped walking and sprinted. The others gave chase, three of his classmates. Clay got to the fence, grabbed the rusty wrought iron, and began to pull himself up. A hand slapped against his back, grabbing his jean jacket. His upward movement fell down as his body slammed against the cool metal, and his hand lost grip. He tumbled between the three guys.
“Get up, Gay Clay,” Mike said as he, Brian, and Julian circled around him. On his back, he looked at the angry faces, the hate steaming down on him.
“Yeah, you pussy, get up,” Brian said as Clay got to his feet. Tears streamed down Clay’s cheek, and his ears burned, he trembled with adrenaline.
“What are you crying for? We haven’t started yet.” Julian said. Clay could see the open gate, and he bolted toward it. The boys grabbed him. Then he felt something like a ten-ton sledge force all the air from his lungs. Mike’s fist had hit the button. Clay doubled over, and he was on the ground again. The other boys pulled Clay back to his feet. With a wild swing, Clay almost hit Brian. With the retaliation can consequences, each took a turn hold Clay as the other two treated him like a punching bag. Once they got tired of the game, they stopped holding Clay, and let him, bruised and bloody, fall to the ground for the third time in a day.
Clay pulled his legs into his midsection, assuming the fetal position in time to catch a size twelve work boot in his chin. Amongst the strikes, the verbal barrage, Clay faded from consciousness.
The world began again, bright and out of focus, with a soft, pleasant voice. “You alright? I’m sorry I couldn’t stop it. I waited until those jerks left, but I’m here now to help.”
Clay grimaced as her face came into focus. His guts hurt, and now his pride. Looking into the face of this angel, he knew she watched him get beat, and he was sure she thought he was weak. Clay worked his way to sitting upright by leaning against the fence he failed to scale. “I’m alright. Who are you?”
“A friend, I guess. Why did those boys beat you up?” Her bright features made Clay forget for a second what happened as he waded into the pool of her gaze. Her long brown hair fell over her shoulders, and her brown eyes searched for Clay to answer.
“They’re assholes, that’s why. Just a bunch,” Clay stopped and looked at this pretty stranger and smiled at her.
“What’re you grinning at?” The girl, blushing, turned head away.
Clay smiled a big, dumb smile and the response got lost in his throat. “Um, nothing. What’s your name?”
“Clayton Wexler, but everyone just calls me Clay.”
“Clayton Wexler. Well, Clay, you gonna be alright?” The girl pulled some of her hair across her mouth. He felt a twinge of embarrassment at that question.
“Of course,” Clay snapped, then softened. “You going to tell me your name or what?”
“Cynthia. My name is Cynthia.”
“How come I never saw you around school? You not from here?
“Oh no, I’m from right here. Born and bred here in Maryvale.”
“Why’ve I never seen you before?”
Cynthia considered the questioned for a beat, bit her lip, and then nodded to some other question, yes. “Well…” She started.
“Don’t you go to school here.”
“No. I don’t. That’s why you’ve never seen me.” She smiled and stuck her hand out as a greeting.
“Happy to meet you, Cynthia.” Clay grabbed her hand with a flip in his stomach. She grabbed his hand and pulled on it.
“Here, let me help you up.” When Clay was standing up fully, she looked up at him and blurted,
“You sure are handsome, Clayton, I bet all the girls at school like you.”
It was Clay’s turn to blush, and he stuttered in response. “Naw. I’m pretty sure no one likes me at school. Didn’t you see those guys kicking me?”
Cynthia’s smile turned toward the graves, she frowned, and her eyes watered up some. “Yes, I saw that.”
With that frown came silence, and the two stood among the stone memorials motionless for sometime as the sun began falling behind the trees. Clay knew it was time to sneak back home and lay low. He wanted to stay, but he didn’t feel like taking a second whooping today. “It’s getting late. You want me to walk you home?”
“No, that’s alright. I live just right up there.” Cynthia pointed to a house at the back of the cemetery.
“Well, okay. You hang out here often?” He didn’t want to walk away from this radiant young woman.
“Yes, I spend most afternoons out here.”
Clay kicked at a dandelion near his foot. “Maybe, I don’t know, I’ll see you here after school then someday?”
Cynthia flashed a big smile and said, “I’d like that.”
“Alright, then. I better get home before my stepdad does. See you, Cynthia.” Clay smiled and waved as he walked to the gates of this place of eternal rest.
Clay works away, his fingers stroking the keys on his laptop at the desk in his room, trying to catch up on school work as the Tylenol dulls his aches. Suddenly, his stomach dropped as the sounds of the keys came from the front door of the house. Clay holds his breath and listens, careful to let the noises tell him the story he doesn’t want to see. The creaking door, the sound of keys falling to the table, the slam of the refrigerator door, whirr of a working microwave, the whoosh of a pop-top, the beeping of food done, then the evening news. Exhaling, Clay knows he can relax. His stepdad, already in the recliner, first beer and dinner, watching tv, would pass out in an hour. Clay returned to his schoolwork.
“Clayton, GET UP! I need smokes.” His stepdad, Jacque, had entered his room, and he had fallen asleep at his desk. Clay shot upright and popped up from his chair. Wiping the drool from his face, Clay turned to his stepdad.
“On it, I’ll get ’em.” Clay wasn’t going to argue, or wait, hop to, he thought.
“Whoa. Hold up. What happened to that ugly mug of yours?”
Clay felt his fat lip, the sore cheek, and his eye felt swollen. “Who cares? Can I get your cigarettes now?”
“I asked what the hell happened?”
“Some guys jumped me.” Clay eyes cast down to his feet. He felt ashamed. His head was thrown up with the back of Jacque’s hand. With a punch in the gut, Clay slammed to the ground.
Hovering over Clay, his stepdad, now a cloud of violence, berated Clay. “You make me sick, you freaking little wuss. It figures you’re so weak the way your slut mother babied you. She should’ve had an abortion.” Jacque pulled some money from his wallet and threw it at Clay. “Now, quit crying like a bitch and get my smokes.”
Clay struggled to get on his hands and knees, spit rolling off his fat lip onto the ground. Grabbing the money, a twenty-dollar bill, he began to get up. His tormentor left, he assumed to set himself back in front of the tv to finish his twelve-pack. Clay left the house to get cigarettes.
Silver popped up and clicked. It folded again than popped and clicked. Clay set against the wall of his room, staring at a void only he found mindlessly flipping the black of his pocket knife open and closed, open and closed. He closed his blade, stuffed it into his pocket, and grabbed his book bag and slung it over his shoulder. Clay started down the hallway toward the front door. His stepdad still passed out on the recliner in front of the television, empty cans littered the floor, a cigarette with a half-burned filter still rested in between his index and middle fingers.
Clay left the smoky, stale dinge of the three-bedroom ranch to the bright of a glorious sun-drenched day. Despite all he withstood, the feeling of warmth and the radiance of the day brought a smile for him. He took in a deep breath, and running his fingers through his hair, walked out into the world.
School was school, but that didn’t diminish this uplifted version of Clay. He felt something new, or at least, something lost and forgotten. Each step had a spring to it. His smile came frequently. That was until he walked up to the gates and looked inside. The cemetery was empty, and Clayton Wexler deflated like a balloon touching tall grass. He sighed and turned to walk back into the den of despair he called home.
Clay spun so fast to meet the owner of the voice, he missed the mark by an inch or two. But there she was. Cynthia stood by the gate with that fantastic smile of her’s. Clay pulled back all the excitement inside. “Hi.”
“Hi. What are you doing here? You weren’t looking for me, were you?”
Clay fell his cheeks, and ears heat up a skosh. He fumbled over a response and tucked his hands into his pockets.
Cynthia’s bubbled over. “You were, weren’t you?”
Clay felt ambushed and offered a weak excuse, “No. My mom’s buried here.”
Cynthia’s smile and enthusiasm withered. “Oh, I’m sorry. I’ll let you have your privacy then.” She began to walk away.
“No. You don’t have to go. We can hang out if you want.” Clay did come here for her. He was an idiot for not just telling her. Don’t go, was all that ran through his brain.
“I am so sorry. I didn’t know.” Cynthia couldn’t make herself meet his eyes, and she wanted to go.
“Don’t be sorry, It’s not like you killed her,” Clay said. He offered a weak laugh for his bad joke. “It’s okay. I want you to stay. I want to hang out with you.”
“Are you sure?” Cynthia seemed uncomfortable now as she folded her arms and swayed ever so slightly.
“Yeah, I’m sure.” Clay pulled the knife from his pocket, absent-minded, and began to unfold and fold it.
“Okay, let’s get some shade up under that maple tree.”
“Okay.” Clay followed Cynthia and sat against the ancient tree a few feet away from Cynthia. He smiled, never stopping the opening and closing of his lock blade. Cynthia inched closer to Clay.
“Not to be rude, but when did your mom, you know?” Cynthia looked Clay eye to eye. She wasn’t just prying, she sensed that he needed to talk about it, to open up about it.
“When I was twelve. She died in a car accident, but my asshole stepdad was so drunk he didn’t even get a scratch. He should have died, not her.” Clay felt the brewing emotions bubbling up from their swirling cauldron. The anger, grief, and pain, twisted and comported as a sickening mixture. The bile bit at the back of his throat, he could taste it, his hand balled up, and muscles tightened, eyes watered. Cynthia inched closer and put her hand on Clay’s arm and leaned in.
Softly, in a whisper, she said, “I’m sorry you had to deal with that.”
Clay, aflame with the emotions, cold in response. “I told you, it’s alright, you don’t have to be sorry. I’m okay with it now. I just wish she hadn’t left me with him. He’s a total douche bag.” The burial ground fell silent. Her hand still resting on his arm, her warmth penetrated and found him, Clayton Wexler. Clay felt a rush of calm fall on him, the pain receded, and the anger settled into placid waters. He looked at her studying the freckles on her cheeks, the way the ear held her hair back from her face, and he smiled, content, and at peace. “What’s your last name?”
“Alucard.” She offered so quick and adroit. Clay ran the name through his head. It seemed to be familiar, even if it sounded odd and foreign. His mouth drew up in one corner, and his eyebrow over it raised.
“Bullcrap.” With that response, they both fell into laughter.
“It’s Morris. I am called Cynthia Morris.”
Clay didn’t take a breath and excitedly hoped for common ground. “You like horror movies, then?”
“Duh. My dad and I used to stay up all night watching the old Universal Monsters. Dracula, Wolfman, Mummy, Frankenstein. Dracula is definitely my fave. I always like how romantic and tragic the vampire is.”
“I’m a werewolf guy. Sometime when I sit in my bedroom, I’ll stare at the moon and wish I could change into a crazy, bloodthirsty animal and just kill everyone…” Clay stopped. How psychotic and brutal did that sound? Clay eyes got big, and out of there corner, he looked to see Cynthia’s reaction.
“I know, right?”
“I’d eat my stepdad first.”
Cynthia laughed and pushed Clay’s shoulder. “That’s too much. You’d have to eat my mom too. Maybe then she’d notice me.”
“Who could miss you?”
“You saying I’m fat?”
“No.” Clay’s jaw dropped, and his eyes read as if he was mortified.
“Relax, Clay. I’m just joking.” She giggled.
“Oh, I was just saying, that I think, that, you’re,” Clay scratched the back of the neck, and his eyes drifted away from Cynthia’s. “pretty.”
Cynthia blushed. Her hand crept toward Clay’s until it came on top of his. She leaned in close to his face and closed her eyes, and craned her neck toward him. Clay swallowed, confused at first, sweat beaded on his forward. He closed his eyes, and their lips met. Cynthia kissed back, then stood up. She twirled and then began to skip away, “I’ve got to go. See you tomorrow after you get out of school?”
“Sure! Where do you want to meet?”
“Right here, silly.”
Time has a way of rolling by, especially the good times. For Clay and Cynthia, it was the best of times. Every day, they found a way to be together. Every day, Clay would wait for Cynthia by the fence at the back of the cemetery for her. With his pocket knife on the old maple, Clay carved C.W. + C.M. inside a heart. This is love, they told one another. This was a reason to breathe.
In between their visits, Clay got the unwanted attention of his stepdad, and Cynthia got none from her mother. The beating took toll on Clay. Threats and violence escalated after his stepdad lost his job, and Clay took his opportunity when his stepdad was passed out after an especially violent outburst that left Clay with a chipped tooth. He packed a bag, stole all the cash in his stepdad’s wallet, and got ready to go, anywhere, anywhere at all. He stashed in his closet and climbed out of his bedroom window. He was headed to the cemetery to see if Cynthia would go with him.
He wondered to the top of the cemetery, through gates at Cynthia’s house, he yelled her name. “Cynthia! Cynthia!”
A light came on in the house, and an older woman stepped out. Once on the stoop, she looked for the source of the yelling. Clay hunched down to avoid detection. That must be her mom. The woman not seeing anyone scowled and went back indoors. Clay felt a tap on his should.
“Clay, stop yelling.” Clay stood up and embraced Cynthia.
“Thank God. I came to ask you something.”
“I gotta get out of here, and I want you to come with me. I can’t take living with him anymore. Either he’s going to kill me, or I’ll end up killing him.” Clay rushed through it, but now he had it out there. Cynthia looked crushed, devastated by what he said.
“You can’t leave me here. You can’t, Clay.”
“Run away with me then. That’s why I came.”
“I… I can’t. I have to stay here with my mother.”
“Come with me. I don’t want to leave you, I love you. You’ve been the lone highlight of my life, especially since my mom died. But I need to get out now.”
“I love you too. Please, don’t leave me here.” Clay and Cynthia took each other’s hands and stared into each other’s eyes. At times they began to talk, but words didn’t come, and they stood silent. Nothing to say other than what already was, Clay looked at the ground and let go of Cynthia’s hands.
“How can you ask me to stay? You see the scars from his cigarettes, the bruises, the black eyes, bloody lips. He’s gonna kill me. Come with me, please. You said your mom doesn’t even act like you there! Come with me.”
Cynthia shook her head, chin at her chest, she choked on her tears. “No. I can’t.” Tears fell to the hallowed grounds beneath their feet. “You can come with me.”
Bewilderment was the expression Clay now wore. Was she running away with him, asking him to stay with her and her mom? “What do you mean?”
Cynthia flickered, there and not there, here and then gone, real and unreal. It was like how Clay pocket knife he fidgeted with was open and then closed. Clay cried out in fear and confusion. “What is happening to you? Cynthia!!! What’s going on?!”
Cynthia looked away from Clay’s wild eyes full of disbelief. “I’m sorry, Clay.”
“For what, exactly?!” He felt like his mind had snapped like he couldn’t trust how his brain was interpreting what his eyes were seeing.
“This is my home,” Cynthia said, turning her back to Clay, who was grasping the unfathomable.
“Yes.” Chills ran through Clay as the night air moved to the translucent form of his love.
“You’re a ghost, you’re buried here.” Clay said in a quiet tone.
“Yes.” Clay felt betrayed, not only by Cynthia but by God, by birth and by everything but his stepfather.
Shattered, Clay asked, “Why should I stay then, you’re dead.”
Cynthia began to cry at hearing these words. “You don’t love me?”
Guilt, regret pulled at Clay. “I do, but it’s not like I can marry a ghost!”
Cynthia flinched at his words, she wiped her tears away and walked back to Clay. Touching his cheek, his tears fell from his eyes and rolled over the top of her hand. Her soft lips met his. With this kiss, he felt a dagger in his heart. She pulled back away from him. “That was real, right? I love you. I don’t know why, but this is magic. You can see me, feel me, and we love one another. Not even death has kept us apart.”
Clay took the wrist of the hand on his face and looked into Cynthia’s eyes. “Can’t you just come with me then? Follow me?”
Cynthia shook her head. “No. I cannot travel far from where I rest, or I begin… to fade.”
“I don’t know what to do. I can’t just sit back anymore, take the abuse. I’ve got to leave, Cynthia, There is no other way for me to survive here, but I can’t leave you.”
“Are you sure there’s no other way?”
“I don’t have any other way. He’s just going to keep beating me until one of us ends up dead.”
“No other way?” Cynthia asked again, almost as if her question was an answer.
“No… I could… no.” Clay was lost and defeated. He knew he must go.
“Then he wins, and we can’t be together.” Cynthia pulled her hand free and fell to the ground. Weeping upon the dewy grass.
“Don’t cry. Don’t do that.” Clay knelt over her and sheltered her as her body convulsed with each sob. “I love you. Stop. This isn’t the end.”
“I’ve been alone so long, Clay, so long. And now you’re leaving me, and I can’t take the thought of the…”
“Hey, stop, stop. It’ll be okay, I’ll figure something out.”
Cynthia worked her way into Clay’s arms, and they were face to face, Clay tears fell on her cheek and mingled with her own. Cynthia offered a weak smile, it was time to let Clay go, let him be free. “Clay, I will just wander with you until,” she stopped, fought back the tears, and continued, “until I fade away. Then we can both be free.” She reached up and wiped away his tears, stood, and taking his hand lead him from the burial ground, “Let’s go, my sweet Clay.”
They walked, hand in hand, to Clay’s house. The window to his room was still ajar. Clay climbed up and inside with ease. Turning and leaning out to help Cynthia in, she began to lose substance as she entered his room.
“Cynthia!” Fear washed over both of them, “No! Stay! Don’t go!”
“I can’t go much further before I’m gone.” Cynthia flickered and became less opaque, the longer she stood in front of the window.
The door burst open, and a raging bull of man charged in, “You little son of a bitch! Where the hell have you been?” Jacque slammed into Clay, sending him tumbling over his desk. Once on the ground, the stepfather round kicked the younger man in the ribs. “Family services came, and you weren’t nowhere to be found!” Another kick, this time a crack rattled through the dim space. The pain shot through Clay, who let out a cry. Clay’s hand fished in his pocket for his knife as his stepdad grabbed his shirt and picked him off the ground like nothing throwing him through the closet door. “I hate you, you little shit!”
Jacque, gritted his teeth, his nostrils flared up and his brows contorted over his eyes as he began to charge at Clay in the closet. The lock blade clicked open, and Clay’s arm flailed toward the stampeding man. The blade sunk into the neck like a stone in water and came out with a jet of crimson. Jacque’s eyes showed what he knew. His hands clasped around his neck in a futile attempt to stop the flow. Blood spattered everything nearby. Kept coming and spraying everywhere. The man lumbered, stumbled, and fell. Clay fought to breathe as he watched his tormentor bleed out. He looked to the window, and Cynthia was barely visible now.
“Don’t leave me now!” Clay screamed.
“You’ve gone too far. You murdered your stepfather, and now you’ll be locked away from me forever.” She sobbed and faded more.
“No,” Clay remembered something Cynthia had said. “When you asked me to join you, in the cemetery, did you mean.”
Cynthia’s lips moved, but Clay could no longer hear her voice. She recognized that her voice had left, and she simply nodded yes. Clay looked at the bloody blade and back to Cynthia as he held it over his wrist. She was fading away fast, just a dim shadow now.
Clay asked one last question. “If I do this, we can stay together forever?” Cynthia nodded. Clay closed his eyes as tears streamed from their corners, walked over to the shadow of his love. He stood beside her and whispered. “Do you love me?”
Clay felt a breeze from the open window, that breeze, carried the voice of Cynthia to his ears, “I love you, my Clay.”
Clay said, “Hold me, then.”
Cynthia wrapped her arms around Clay. The blade slid across his wrist, and his lifeforce poured out. The husk fell to the ground, but the spirits of Clay and Cynthia stood in their embrace. He smiled as the fear subsided. Arms wrapped around one another, Clay felt an unknown joy. “We can be together forever now.”
“Oh, yes, we shall be together forever.” Clay looked into Cynthia’s eyes. They began to change from brown to green, and the pupil from round to a diamond shape. Her teeth grew in her mouth, each one coming to a point. The flesh on her forehead ripped open as horn came out. “Together forever in hell.”
The floor beneath the two ripped open as Cynthia’s laughter mixed with Clay’s screams of terror.