DWTS Week 6

10-19 20

Mixed bag with a scare at the end. Let’s take this apart.

First off, it was apparently My Most Miserable Memory night, where they all tell maudlin tearjerker stories to make us feel for them.

And Tyra’s opening outfit. They must really hate her. How wide are those hips? Those pants do her no favors. And the top seemed to be a burlap bag with some sequins glued on.

The highlight of the night had to be Derek’s tour de force performance, reminding us of why he has six glitter ball trophies. I only have three words to describe it. O M G !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

That’s what I came to see. I was covered in a musical frisson chill from the opening note. Fast and hard (like Bruno likes it). Part paso, part flamenco and all awesome. I would pay to see that every day. Yow!

Interestingly, the Derek performance kind of kicked the show into high gear. The six performances before him were pedestrian at best. The five after were sparklers.

Best of the night. AJ and Cheryl. OMG the boy’s got game. He killed it! I was wooting and jumping around the room cheering him on. He was giving out sass like nobody’s business. He could give Johnny lessons on how to be fabuloso. It was a real live samba. 10

Jeannie and Brandon gave me a rumba with some teeth in it. Strong, sharp, deep, emotional and sexy without being sex. So many gorgeous lines. I got some minichills. Brandon’s choreo has never moved me before, but he has improved. Loved the costuming and I want his shirt. She was robbed in the scoring.

Justina (and Sasha) was the only one of my favorites to make a mark tonight. Her VW was so beautiful. A few too many hard edges and I could have done without all the feathers but still, so beautiful. As Bruno said – Radiant.

Chrishell and Gleb got to do a dance that he excels in. I’ve always liked his contemporary. It always touches me. This was no exception. Wow. Gorgeous movement. The song moved me and the dance made me cry.

As for Kaitlyn and Artem’s samba, I didn’t see it the way the judges did. I liked AJ’s much better. Granted, AJ’s was choreographed to show off the man, whereas hers was choreographed to show off the woman and I liked his moves more. I think the content of his was superior. She’s good and will continue to move up and AJ’s days are numbered. But tonight went to him. And what’s with Artem’s pants? Are 1950s high water pants coming back in style?

Then there was the first half of the show which was an unmitigated mess. If you tuned in just as Derek was getting started, you missed nothing.

It started with my two favorites doing absolutely awful dances.

Johnny looked like he stumbled or got off time at the very beginning but picked it up and gave us Johnny face. He was totally sassy. But to me, salsa is supposed to be sexy with the woman being feminine sexy and the man being macho sexy. With the hose and fringe skirt Johnny missed the macho boat. Call me old fashioned but ballroom has conventions, traditions and expectations. One of them should have been wearing pants. Carrie Ann called them on it rightly. Now they’re doing instant voting I think America showed what they thought of his costume. The envelop can be pushed, but only so far.

Nev and Jenna were disqualified for failing to do ballroom. I came to see ballroom. They just jumped around like a pair of idiots. It was athletic, but nothing else. At that point I was 2 for 2 in disappointments.

Skai and Alan. What the hell were those costumes about? He was a zebra and she had on a blue tutu and wig they must have grabbed off a hooker down on Santa Monica Boulevard. I thought next week was Halloween. As for the dance, yeah she screwed it up. Aside from that, it had no hip action because she has no hips. I figured she be one of the bottom two and the judges would of course save her. I don’t know why they feel the need to fawn on her.

Vernon and Peta were a bright spot in the first half. Their routine had some cha cha and a lot of Vernon’s special dance. In the cha cha he was wooden and jerky, but when he did his thing he was selling it. He was having a blast and it was nice to see him have fun. Carrie Ann got it right that he’s easy to watch because he loves dancing. And now I know what happened to that hideous sofa that used to be in Grandma’s parlor.

Val danced a beautiful rumba and Monica held on for dear life. Nice hip action and extensions, but most of the moves were simple. My problem was her face. Her smile was not real. It was so obviously fake that it kept distracting me. I did like that the dance was romantic rather than vertical sex. I don’t know. Maybe she felt weird about dedicating it to her husband and then getting intimate with another man.

Nelly and Daniella got ridiculously high scores from the judges. I loved what Daniella did, she almost achieved escape velocity with her Viennese. But she was dragged down by Nelly’s dead weight. The opening sequence he did well, with flow and arms. But when the feet got involved it was a mess. At least Derek called him on it. He was my choice to go. Well, actually my choice to go was Skai but I know that’s not going to happen.

So nothing much happened tonight except they let Vernon go. I had decided that he and Nelly needed to be next. Maybe they’ll boot Nelly next week.

I still say the best dancers are a two-way tie for first with Johnny and Nev, and Justina a close second (or I guess that’s actually third). I don’t particularly care for Skai and Kaitlyn is good but not stellar, but I see them as spoilers since they have incredible fan bases. Next week is Halloween and that’s usually a good time. Looking forward to it.

DWTS Week 5

October 12, 2020

Oh, it’s 80s night and I’m feeling right, sung to the tune of Ladies Night. We have entered the Land of Mullets.

I’m not even going to get into TB’s costume changes, other than how many times did she change? Such a waste of their budget.

I liked two of the judges’ clothes choices. The deep colored dress suited Carrie Ann. Now if she’d just ditch the pan-fried hair. I’m not sure what Derek was going for, but I’m pretty sure he missed the mark. It was just odd. Bruno won the night, totally rocking the Gay Miami Vice look.

I have to wonder if there is any rhyme or reason to the dance styles they do. I mean, four tangos in one night?  And jazz? OMG

Let’s just get this out of the way. There were three disqualifications right off the top. Jazz is not a ballroom dance (noticed I used my indoors voice) and will not be sanctioned.  Most offensive was Justina and Sasha. There was no dancing. It looked like an aerobics class to me. It lacked fun, grace or dance. So disappointing since she’s usually one of my top three. I noticed that Derek only talked in generalities about this stage of the competition, never actually talking about what they did. Bruno just perved on Sasha’s pectorals. Conehead Carrie Ann just dithered with her fried hair. Maybe they were all thinking what I was thinking and didn’t want to admit that the emperor had no clothes.

Skai and Alan, and it’s me, not her. I just don’t like her. Probably not her fault, I just wish she’d go away. And take Tyra with her. Their faux dance was midway between the Justina/Sasha mess and Jeannie and Brandon. It had lots of flashy, ballsy lifts but that was about it. Throughout the first half it looked like they were stepping tentatively as if their feet hurt. By about the third lift the tentativeness was gone but she still kept pulling odd faces. And where’d they dig up Alan’s wig? It didn’t look like Doc; it looked like Martha Washington.

As for Jeannie and Brandon, now that was a performance I could get into. It was fun, frisky and had real dance elements. Everything the other two weren’t.

I’m having trouble deciding the worst actual ballroom dance of the night. I’ve got it down to two couples. One was Nelly and Daniella’s attempt at samba. It had nice samba content as the judges noted. Unfortunately, Nelly did not have nice samba content. Samba has an unusual beat that no one wants me to bore them explaining and Nelly must have checked out on that conversation also. He hit the beat some of the times and was completely off some of the time. He had a great time, smiling up a storm and doing inventive footwork (just not samba footwork) but it just didn’t work. He has no flexibility in his hips and makes me afraid I’ll dance like that after my spine fusion next week. I don’t know what happened with the judges. They were way too generous.

But I guess honors for the worst of the night has to go to Vernon and Peta. What a mess! It looked like he got in her way during the first move and she stumbled. They never got it back together. He was definitely scary looking with all the dreads. He was a ringer for Laurent, the black vampire in Twilight (Yes, I watched Twilight. I’m a Jacob fan. Edward was just gross). It lacked grace and poise and he just looked like a surly stumblebum vampire. Too bad; I like Vernon. And of course Peta isn’t going to let us get away without a few crotchshots. No comment.

And speaking of tango, there were three, count ‘em, three more. Bottom of that pileup was Jesse and Sharna. I so wanted Jesse to do well because he’s with Sharna. It just wasn’t happening. He opened a bit wooden, it seemed there was no mental connection between them. Once in frame he got better, but near the end he seized up again. And the emotion he was projecting was more paso doble anger than tango burn. I don’t know what he’s done as an actor, but must have been soaps. They don’t know the difference between anger, burn or chew the scenery melodrama.

The judges reversed the last two tangos from what I thought they deserved. Kaitlyn and Artem did something that would have given Len a coronary. First was all that freaking jumping around before the dance and then ending it with stiff 35-year-old white girl trying to bust a b-move? What tango they did was good, but not as good as what I expect from Artem. He’s about to be dethroned as my favorite male pro over this. And when did he get so bow legged?  And wasn’t their song, “I Think We’re Alone Now” from the 60s? Yes, talentless Tiffany covered it in the 80s but that doesn’t make it 80s music any more than the Boston Pops’ cover of Blue Danube makes it modern music.

The tango of tangos was Monica and Val. I need to take up smoking so I can have a cigarette after something like that. Wow. What she did was pretty good, but Val was a force to be reckoned with. When that man gets his tango on, everybody just stand back. It was a no holds barred smackdown. Some of his moves left me gasping. From when they fired guns over each others’ shoulders (with sexy body rolls) to their hair-raising race to the finish I was just hanging on. Yeah, love me some Tainted Love.

There were a couple of also rans. Chrishell and Gleb stumbled through a messy cha cha. She either missed or dragged on nearly every step. Those baggy pants never made anyone look good and did no favor to her hips. And for the record, Gleb looks awful in a mullet.

AJ and Cheryl surprised me. I liked their waltz. It was weirdly credible from someone who looked like he was about to spew through the entire dance. He just looked soooo uncomfortable. He had all the right elements, but I just kept expecting him to stop, bend over, and lose his cookies. But Cheryl pulled him through, demonstrating once again that she is the mistress of the faux lead. She is always the first female pro to make it look like her partner is leading. Probably my favorite thing about her. I’d like to bring up a complaint here. Why do, when the dancers do any kind of spiral move, the camera is intent on spiraling around them in the other direction? It’s distracting and disorienting. It screws with the perceived speed of the move and makes me dizzy. I’m the one in danger of losing his cookies.

Once again they ended the show with wham bam show stopping performances. Johnny and Britt kept the fabulosity alive with a wild contemporary. I know contemporary isn’t ballroom but I’ve grandfathered it in when they actually look like they’re dancing. At least they weren’t wearing their jammies. But it was hard and soft and emotional and lyrical and just grabbed me. Bruno described it perfectly even though he screwed up the perfect score.

My favorite of the night actually got low scores. Shoot the judges. Nev and Jenna continue to surprise me every week. Okay, we’ve found out now that he’s a ringer, he used to take dance classes. But then, so many of them have. And he had the weird eyes even as a little kid, too. I’m an 80s nerd and love a-Ha and immediately perked up for the quickstep. They were perfectly in sync and no one even talked about the great jete. They had so much fun, it was just infectious (in a non-Covid way). Definitely my fave of the night. As Bruno said, it was exuberant.

I loved the music for every performance, but then, I’m an 80s guy. Probably the last decade they made decent music.

Unfortunately, I think they made the right choice in dumping Jesse. He just wasn’t cutting it.

Nelly, Vernon and Chrishel need to go next. I’m afraid we’re stuck with Skai because the judges think she’s precious. They are still impressed with her shameless pandering about her dead friend. Kaitlyn will stay around because of Bachelor nation. Justina outclasses Jeannie but neither may make it to the end. I want a smackdown between Nev and Johnny. Now that would be entertainment.

DWTS Week 4

10.5.20

Well, that was a CF if there ever was one. What a mess. Still, nowhere near the gaffe of Steve Harvey back in 2015.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3DKDaSd-4nY

People are already calling for Tyra’s head. I’m not sure if she was at fault as Steve was so I won’t pile on. But she was very quick to throw everybody else under the bus in avoiding any responsibility. And if the fubar was with the cards she was to read, then Tom Bergeron would have done the same thing. But I imagine he would have handled the fallout with more grace. He had class. I kinda wondered what was going on when she said, “the two bottom couples” and there were still three couples on the floor. Gleb was whipping his head around, trying to figure it out, too. Yep, amateur hour all the way around.

And what is it with her costuming? It’s like a whole separate event of the evening. First, she comes out in yards and yards of gold lamé; yeah, she has a lot to cover. Then she shows up in a Xena top with a couple of rain barrels tied to her hips. And make up by Annie Lennox.

I have to be grateful there were no execrable performances over the evening and even a few 9s and a 10 dropped. Grade inflation, however. And I don’t know if anyone else has noticed this, but the music they are using has taken a nosedive. Some of the songs I would have ranked undanceable.

The judges seemed to lose their minds over Skai’s shmaltzy performance. It was cheap tearjerker drivel designed to deflect judgment of her dancing. Her actual performance was nice but a 9 would have been stretching the mark. She’s just not yet built for dancing. She needs to grow up some. It’s like watching a pubescent girl dance with her father. She has no boobs or butt or anything else to fill out a ballgown. Call me crass or sexist, but I call it like I see it. And Carrie Ann has a history of buying into it. The judges all got sidetracked on the “lovely tribute” and didn’t really talk about the actual dance. In it’s own way that is just as bad as Bobby Bones or Sean Spicer being kept on the show by people who aren’t looking at their dancing.

The highlights for me was the Nev/Johnny/Justina Show. They are the ones I look forward to. They know how to put on a show.

As odd as Nev looks (I can’t figure out if his eyes or smile is scarier, he’s gotta stick around until Halloween) he is growing on me. I like his attitude of not taking himself so seriously, his wonder at dancing and he’s a seemingly nice guy. He has the body of a mini wookie, but that’s okay. I liked the manscaping comments. I liked his rumba, but I was amazed that no one called his obvious foul. Every forward step (and there were many of them) was a heel lead. It just leapt out of the screen at me. Did no one see that? I thought sure that at least ditzy Carrie Ann would have called it. Incredible hip rolls, though. You don’t usually see that on men outside of pros.

Justina and Sasha are also favorites. I mean who doesn’t love Sasha? And Justina is always my favorite party. I love a plus size woman who just owns it like nobody’s business. Sassy and brassy and who cares about the scores. Time to partay! When she dances, she glows. Best dance of the night.

Fabulousness is in the ballroom again! Johnny has found his mojo and is working it. His routine could have used more kicks, but that was just because I was enjoying them so much. One of the performances that gave me chills. He should have got 9s but was robbed. And for the record, I adore Mama Weir.

The rest of the performances ranged from “That’s nice, dear” to “What have you been doing with all the time you weren’t practicing?” The four-way tie for last place was, well, yeah.

Jeannie and Brandon. Soulless. I hate a soulless tango. It just failed to move me. Her face vacillated between looking scared to “I just peed my pants.”

Nelly and Daniella. He may or may not have accomplished a Paso, but the song was a hot mess. That was not PD music, not even music in my old white guy estimation. It was awful rap junk and was so fast they couldn’t articulate the artistry. It became just flailing. I made that note before I listened to the judges and was surprised to hear Bruno also decry the “lack of artistry” and mention flailing. You go, Bruno. I was amused to see that Daniella must have broken into Peta’s dominatrix closet. And damn, but Nelly has some big muscles. Kind of weird for a guy whose name comes from a pejorative for limp wristed gay men. On an aside, I figured Derek would say he liked the music. He is desperately struggling to stay relevant as he ages, while being handicapped with being painfully white.

Jesse and Sharna, such a disappointment. He was totally checked out. I don’t know who the ringer was they sent in to replace him. He did everything okay, but there was no spontaneity, no flirt, no sass, no life. And I’m glad they finally called him about keeping his head in Sharna’s tits. They just said he was looking at her feet, but we all know where his eyes were.

Anne and Keo. I think I’m going to have to rant for a while on this one. She apparently tried to pull the same trick that Skai did. Deflect from the dance by tugging at the hearts of the audience. I was moved by how she has been treated for coming out gay. It’s a travesty. And I applaud her heroism. She still can’t dance. That was the most bloodless PD I’ve seen since Kate Gosselin and Sean Spicer stunk up the ballroom. And I want to talk about racism and victimization. Keo keeps getting put with partners who “admire” his body. You never see Gleb’s partner’s pawing him. Or Val’s. Or anyone else (okay, Pasha has gotten a couple of off-color comments over time). So why is it okay to objectify Keo? Is it because he’s black so it’s alright to treat him like he isn’t human? He’s just stage dressing. Anne may be a lesbian, but your gender orientation doesn’t stop you from being a bigot or a racist or just a tasteless person. Keo deserves a huge apology from ABC and most of the partners he has been tasked with. Okay, rant over.

Moving up the food chain, I was disappointed with the scores Gleb and Chrisell received. What they did is what I want to see. A proper foxtrot. Classic, fluid, sexy, and beautiful. It had all the elements and was performed with emotion. What’s not to like?

I think Vernon and Peta are my choice for the next elimination. What they did was nice, but it was all Peta. Her best rumba ever. I couldn’t take my eyes off her. I have no idea what he did. He has looked familiar to me, but I’ve had trouble placing him. Last night is dawned on me that he looks so much like Amenadiel, Lucifer’s angel brother on my favorite series, Lucifer. Here’s his pic.

The two 24s and the 25 were puzzling. I found them all overrated.

Monica and Val’s samba was nicely done. It did have proper samba moves, but Val must be slipping. Her execution was just not up to his usual. No bounce, no joy, just workmanlike effort. They seemed to be holding back. I say let loose and kill it. Or go down swinging. Seven’s would have been more appropriate.

AJ and Cheryl. I paid to see cha cha, not krumping. What cha cha he did was enjoyable, even if there was too much stomping. But I saw that as he was so excited and just wanting to stomp it out. I like some of Backstreet Boys music, including the one they used. The “virtual” band was a disappointment. I was envisioning something more live, not just some pre-recorded holographs blown up to monstrous size. I’d give it at least one seven mixed in with the eights.

Kaitlyn and Artem. I’m sorry but I had trouble focusing on the dance. That monstrosity of an outfit Artem was wearing kept getting in the way. I just kept getting visions of Hannibal Lecter’s suit made of humans. Once that was in my brain, I was lost. The VW seemed short, with no swoop or etherealness. Definitely not a 25. Even though Artem is my favorite male pro.

That’s my thoughts. The worst of the worst have been winnowed out. Now time to go after the ‘also rans’. I think they need to boot Nelly and Vernon next, in whatever order they wish. Monica and Skai also need to go but now Carrie Ann is hooked on her I imagine Skai will be around to the end.

In Candide’s best of all possible worlds the finals would be Johnny, Nev and Justina. In reality I feel Skai and Kaitlyn will be spoilers.

DWTS Week3

9.28.20

I began last night like I have begun every show so far by saying, “What the hell is she wearing?” It appears they are expending the entire wardrobe budget on Tyra’s fashion don’ts. But I think I have uncovered their evil plan. They realize they have made a mistake hiring Ms. Banks but don’t know how to get rid of her. The idea is that if they keep dressing her like a cross between a muppet and Vegas showgirl she’ll get fed up and quit. We should be so lucky.

And Bruno. Someone should let him know there is a difference between filling out a shirt nicely and wearing one too small. Every time we saw him he looked like he had been stuffed in that shirt like a sausage. It looked as if any moment one of the buttons might fly off and take out someone’s eye. I prefer him with a tie anyway. The neck is getting a little old to be taken out in public.

What was Derek’s sash for? Was he a Disney prince? Princes have crowns. If he wants to be a prince just wear a crown instead of being coy with the sash. And why did it disappear a few minutes into the show? And then come back later? The mystery of the elusive sash.

Carrie Ann as a blonde. No, just no.

There was some good stuff and some break outs. Finally. Mostly within the final 15 minutes.

High point of the night. Nev and Jenna’s Argentine Tango. Now that’s entertainment. I got my first chills of the season on this one. I only get chills down my arms and into my chest on the very best dances and this one got a tingle going. It was sharp, crisp, menacing – everything A Tango is supposed to be. And with the weird eyes, he’s even scarier than Depp’s Jack Sparrow. Kind of bandy legged, though. But no one’s perfect.

Second best Johnny and Britt’s rumba. The fabulosity that is Jonny Weir finally showed up. It wasn’t vertical sex, for obvious reasons, but a proper rumba, with a little contemporary thrown in. The hip work was a little odd at places and I think they got off on he spin. Britt bounced on one leg and almost fell. That mucked with the rhythm and they didn’t match the music and the dance just kind of died at the end. But so nice while it lasted. Johnny’s best and I hope an omen of what’s to come.

Kaitlyn and Artem’s rumba was a surprise. Since they had on their jammies and were barefoot I expected some soft porn. But it turned out to be actual dancing. She did great for having a bad foot and Artem is my favorite male pro. I like whatever he does.

And then there were the ones where the judges were apparently watching another dance than I was seeing. Such as:

Chrishell and Gleb. Yes, what they did was nice. Very nice. But I felt robbed. It was mostly posing and then the spin. There was only one measure (123, 456) of waltz. I replayed it and counted. Gleb can do much better than that. A disappointment.

And Jesse and Sharna. Not nearly enough kicks and hardly any flicks. Just jumping about and flinging his feet around. Not a pointed toe in sight. I love Sharna but not that dance.

There were two Viennese Waltzes to compare and there was no comparison. Jeannie and Brandon won by a mile. Val is a beautiful smooth dancer with great shaping. Monica, not so much. He put in plenty of lift but she was earth bound. No flight, no float. Brandon really showed his chops and made Jeannie fly. Almost got goose bumps. And I loved when she stole Bruno’s paddle. It’s cute when they get excited.

Back to back Quicksteps was not kind to Keo. AJ and Cheryl stole that matchup. He got through it without messing up. Quite an accomplishment in QS. Lots of energy and I’m glad they covered all his ink with makeup. As an old white man, I just think he looks trashy. I know, I’m a dinosaur. And did he say his daughter’s name is Lyrica? Isn’t that a pain medication?

Anne and Keo were totally outclassed by AJ and Cheryl. One of the weakest jetes ever. And that was Keo. She didn’t even try, which may have been why his didn’t take off. The side by side was just a mess, looked like she forgot the choreo. And her objectifying Keo was just plain creepy. Why do they keep putting these strange creatures on Keo? Who did he piss off?

But Vernon and Peta kicked their asses when it came to QS. It had a slow start and I was worried. But somebody must have lit a fire in his butt ‘cause he suddenly took off like a rocket. He was so into it and that’s always fun to see. He’s a very likeable individual and I highly respect his devotion to his family and vow to be there for all his kids’ achievements and special moments. I think people forget how important that is to the kids. They remember.

Skai and Alan had a better jive than Jesse and Sharna but Skai had this weird Stepford Wives/department store mannequin grin on her face the whole time. As an actress I would think she would have a better game face or even RBF than that. I hope she brings it back on Halloween because it was just plain scary. Nice flicks but her timing was off at the beginning.

Charleston is NOT A  BALLROOM DANCE!

How many times to I need to tell them this? Is no one even paying attention? What’s next? Bollywood? Justina and Sasha didn’t even touch each other until the final couple of measures. That’s line dancing, not partner dancing. And she flubbed the steps. Loved Sasha’s cartwheel but the rest was cheesy, corny and bah humbug.

Nelly and Daniella weren’t terrible but it was a good thing Len wasn’t there to complain about all the folderal they did before they actually started dancing. And it started out okay, but it looked like he took a breath at the beginning and forgot to breathe for the rest of the dance. It was obvious he was running out of oxygen by the end. And his neck just disappeared as his shoulders crowded in around his ears. I like Nelly, the person. Nelly, the dancer, not so much.

And then Carole and Pasha stunk up the place with possibly the worse samba ever. I get it, she’s old and doesn’t know dance, but surely Pasha could have done something with her other than come up with the most over the top costumes since Mark Ballas. It was just sad.  

So far, over the first three shows I’m in agreement with the voters on who should be the bottom two and I agree with the judges on who to save and who to boot. I hope that continues. I think I like the new system and hope it will spare us future travesties like Bobby Bones and Juan Pablo di Pace.

I hope Anne gets the boot next week (sorry Keo, but at least you won’t have to put up with her pawing you anymore).

I predicted in the very first posting that Nev was my dark horse pick and he won the night running away. And now Johnny has his game on it might be a fun contest. Skai may make a comeback but for three nights out, she has not impressed. Bachelor Nation will keep Kaitlyn coming back every week for awhile. But I’m hoping for a Nev/Johnny/Justina smackdown. Could be epic.

DWTS Week 2

9.21.20

I was so completely underwhelmed by DWTS last week that I totally forgot it was on last night. Slipped my mind. Someone reminded me today, so I speed watched it this afternoon. Another hour of my life gone with nothing to show for it.

I have to begin with I am so, so, so tired of Tyra. She adds nothing but annoyance. Kind of like when brainless Burk Blank was co-host. And that outfit? What the hell was it? Looked like a cast off from Auntie Entity from Mad Max.

Who dresses the judges or are they allowed to pick for themselves? Did no one consider fuchsia beside pink is a fashion crime? Fuchsia is so definitely Bruno’s color, looks good on him. Pink is so definitely not Derek’s color. We’ll save his masculinity and call it dusty rose. It makes him look faded. And my eyes are still vibrating from the clash of them side by side.

On the positive side, there were no absolutely awful dances this time. Considering what they have to work with, that’s quite an accomplishment. Unfortunately there were no standouts. I agreed with the judges on the two best of the night, but little else. I got the feeling they were watching a different show.

Weird dance line up. There were five foxtrots and four cha chas. Then a mashup of the others. Who selects this? The music was mostly crappy, but I can’t complain too much when they had Fleetwood Mack and One Republic.

Best of the night was Kaitlyn and Artem. I love Artem’s dancing and am so glad they brought him back. The FT was beautiful, lyrical and dreamy; just like a FT should be. The shaping was so nice. It got the highest score of the night and it got the first 8.

Second, for me was Nev and Jenna. Such nice body rolls. He’s quickly becoming my dark horse favorite – a person who unexpectedly discovers a love of dance. Now if we could just do something about the scary eyes and creepy smile. And Derek is right, man is he hairy. But kudos for saying no to the manscaping.

The judges loved Justina and Sasha’s FT also. It had a nice fairy tale quality. She was so getting into it. I love to see a big girl carry herself so well and unselfconsciously. And I love Sasha’s choreo.

Jesse’s hair seems to have grown out some since last week or either he has extensions. Either way, he doesn’t look quite as much of a dork as he did earlier. He and Sharna’s FT was bothersome. For one thing the song was too fast. He was tentative and frequently flat footed with hunched shoulders. At least he mostly kept his head up and away from Sharna’s boobs.

I though AJ and Cheryls FT was flashy and very Hollywood golden era. It was cute and I like it. I’m with Bruno in that I thought it had pizzazz.

Interesting that my top 5 were four foxtrots and a cha cha. Well, they are two of my favorite ballroom dances. But then that changes daily.

I liked the music for Ann and Keo’s foxtrot, but once again, it was too fast. At one point it looked like they were doing quickstep. She’s still holding back and not finishing the moves, and I’ve never been overly fond of his choreo. Not his fault but it looked like his coat was made from an old couch at my grandma’s house.

And oh, Johnny, Johnny, Johnny. What are we going to do with you? You seemed to forget to pack your fabulosity. Tango is second only to PD in drama and this was so lifeless. The transitions were clunky and some of the moves were just so wooden. I guess in skating he can do the big move and then stop while his skates glide along finishing the move for him. Not gonna happen here. He had to do it all. He needs to get his game on or he’s a goner.

Okay, I like Alan. I loved his blue jacket (gotta get me one) and I love samba. I even kinda like his Skai. But that was a mess. I’m sure she’ll be around for a long time no matter how she dances because she’s a Disney princess, but that was just an awkward mess.

Nelly and Daniella. He looked so uncomfortable, kinda like my uncle at a wedding, trying to look cool and failing so, so badly. He tried to get his groove on, but it had apparently left the building.

Chrishell and Gleb. I expect more from Gleb than this. I’ve seen what he can do. I’ve also seen him choke. This was closer to the latter. It looked more contemporary than rumba. At least international rumba usually gives me a little bit of porn. Meh, it was too dark to see.

Charles and Emma. Just thankful he’s gone.

Jeannie and Brandon. She tried to be playful but it kinda looked creepy. Old people pawing young people is just so wrong. Also too staccato.

Carole and Pasha. They really gave the old lady VW on her second week? Really? Except for looking like a gold lamé Statue of Liberty she pulled it off. The long dress was good for hiding her mistakes. I would have liked more movement. There was just a nod to 123 and then all this bowing and curtsying and stuff Len would have called folderol.

Vernon and Peta. I’m disappointed in her. Usually she digs deep into her closet for dominatrix wear for PD. Vernon did some parts nicely and some parts I think he was having flashbacks to being on the football field. I thought he was going to tackle Peta. His leap was nice though. Jumping over the fullbacks into the end zone. Score! The shaping and menace was missing. He kinda reminded me of Gort (without the laser beam). All he needed to do was say Klaatu barada nikto (only SF fans will get that).

Monica and Val. Very little jive going on. I was waiting for it and suddenly the dance was over. What the hell? I also spent some time trying to figure out what the set and costumes were supposed to represent. If anyone has figured it out, let me know. Might be something simple, but I frequently miss the obvious. Hey, I fell headfirst down a flight of stairs when I was three. I have an excuse.

Next week is Disney. I hate theme weeks (except Halloween). I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Disney movie so I have no idea what they are going for. The songs are usually forced and clumsy and I could go on. But I won’t. At least it’s better than My Most Miserable Memory week.

Ok, so this is what I’m seeing happening. Carole gets the book next week. Skai and Kaitlyn will try to outcute each other. Bachelor nation versus Disney. An Alan/Artem throwdown. Justina and AJ stick around because of personality. Nev may hang on till close to the end. Remember you heard it here first. Unless I got it totally wrong. In that case, blame somebody else.

Fire Tyra

Can Tyra be the first to get the boot? Please.

Well, I wasted another hour of my life that I can never get back. At least with my DVR I can record it and the 2 hour slog-a-thon is only one hour once I fast forward through all the commercials. If I had to watch the ads also my brain would truly turn to jello.

Who is the marketing ‘genius’ that thought Tyra was a good idea? The same one who thought New Coke was smart? Tom Bergeron was a calming presence, kind of like the keeper of the zoo, although his humor sometimes reminded me of bringing grandpa home from the asylum for Thanksgiving. And Erin was great. You gotta love a six foot woman who wears heels. The producers said they were going in a new direction. Yeah, directly down the tubes.

Maybe they caught Tom doing something awful or doing someone awful. I still think that’s what torpedoed Giles Marini all those years ago. His shower scene on Sex and the City or whatever it was called was totally PG on TV. But someone leaked the footage that couldn’t be shown on TV to the web. Now we know why the character was called Mr. Big. I just checked. Yep, the pix are still there. Google “Gilles Marini Sex and the city shower scene” but be forewarned.

I considered taking a wait and see attitude with the new girl. Give Tyra a chance. Nope. Not gonna happen. So far she just seems to be a rack for fashion disasters and other crimes against nature. First she cruises out like an escaped float from the Rose Bowl Parade. Then a fuscia on red pantsuit? That’s so far beyond a fashion don’t, it’s a fashion hell no. In what universe is that supposed to be attractive? And that monstrosity around her neck?

The judges were equally disorienting. Carrie Ann is blonde now? Most Asians really don’t carry that off well. She’s one of them. She’s ditzy enough without punctuating it with blonde. And Bruno’s gone totally white. Maybe he got a glimpse of Lenny naked. Tyra called him a silver fox. More like ferret. Or weasel. I liked Derek’s circa 1980 necktie. I had one just like it.

And who choreographed that totally lackluster opening? DWTS needs to get their money back.

There were fifteen performances, so like the movie, it was Fast and Furious. So we got 30 second meeting shots, 30 second dances, 2 minute judge jawboning and on to the next commercial.

For me there were 6 performances of note: 3 surprisingly well, 2 supremely awful and 1 what the hell?

I had to wait all the way to the sixth dance to find something I liked. Jesse & Sharna. He had the hardest dance (QS) out of the box with the most content and mostly nailed it. I guess. I was watching Sharna. He needs to keep his head up and quit looking at his feet and Sharna’s boobs. And a crew cut? That hairstyle has looked good since, never. The wardrobe was awful.

A bit brighter spot was Nev’s foxtrot. It was what a foxtrot is supposed to be. It was classy and well executed. Great faux leading. Reminded me of Evan Lysachek, except Nev appears to have a personality. Here’s Evan doing a similar routine. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nduAmka73hA The smile is a bit creepy. It seems to belong to a guy who is telling a little girl there is candy in the back of his van. If it wasn’t a fluke he could be the dark horse, the one who suddenly against all odds finds he can dance. And I love Jenna anyway.

The high point of the night had to be Justina and Sasha. Not only did it make me smile but I laughed out loud. I haven’t seen so many jiggly parts jiggling since Neicy Nash. What it lacked in style it more than made up for in sheer sass and brass. And I also love Sasha.

Then came the awfuls. Charles Oakley apparently couldn’t make it so they grabbed a wino from an alley and stuck a suit on him. So bad it hurt to watch. How can an athlete, a black athlete have absolutely no sense of rhythm? But if you look back over the history of the show, basketball players have always fared poorly. Stilt legs and monkey arms just make them too gangly to be graceful dancers. Plus they’ve not brought one on yet who had a sense of rhythm. I guess if you have rhythm they steer you toward football.

I really liked Pasha’s paso doble. Carole’s, not so much. Cute concept, atrocious execution. It gave me a nightmarish flashback to Sean Spicer’s paso. Her 3 wasn’t the lowest paddle ever, though. That would be Master P who got two 2s and a 4. (Don’t search for it. Your eyes will bleed). If they had negative paddles, I’d be waving them for old Carole. I imagine she and Charles are in a race for the door. Maybe there’ll be a double elimination. I was going to insert a video of Sean’s nightmarish paso but it is “not available” on line. Maybe he paid them to take it down. So I found an equally godawful paso. Kate Gosselin. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EURnLDlPAAY

My ‘what the hell’ moment was Johnny Weir. I expected it to be ‘fabuloso’ but it was so mundane-o. No emotion or life. I wanted so much more from him. He’s been talking a big talk, now’s the time to man up. And fishnet stockings over hotpants? I think he got into Peta’s closet.

Skai Jackson was the highest scorer and it was not bad at all, just not standout. She’s a bit stiff to have such a long history of being on camera. And I can’t watch her all dolled up trying to look sexy without feeling like a pedophile.

The rest of the night was pedestrian, at best. Lots of chaff to work through.

AJ & Cheryl. My first question, is there any part of his body that isn’t inked? And are those prison tats or rehab? He says he’s been a Backstreet Boy for 28 years. Dude, you need to stop. If you haven’t made it to Backstreet Man by now, it ain’t gonna happen. And his suit was from even farther back. I wore that to my prom in 1974.

Chishell & Gleb. I need me a top like Gleb’s. Way cool. She’s a disaster. What’s wrong with her legs? They didn’t seem to move. Gleb was dragging her around like a department store mannequin.

Vernon & Peta. I’ve seen worse. Not much foxtrot going on, just posing. He’s stiff and his butt sticks out. If he finds a little rhythm he’ll be around for awhile because the footballers get lots of votes for some inexplicable reason. I’m glad Derek told Carrie Ann she was a shit for calling the lift.

Ann & Keo. So she wore dominatrix boots for her first practice? Why does Keo always get these people? Who has he pissed off at ABC? She was wooden and kept making faces. She did get in the best line of the night. When braindead Tyra asked her what she was thinking while dancing she said, “Please don’t fall down and can I get a second take?”

Jeannie & Brandon. I’m not sure she did any salsa, mostly just Brandon tossing her around. It was hard to concentrate when Brandon looked like a glow stick with a big butt.

Kaitlyn & Artem. Ok, disclaimer. I’m not a beard fan. You never know what might be hiding in there. Spiders or a hive of killer bees. She’s a bachelor person so people apparently know her name so she’ll get votes whether she can dance or not. Two words mostly came to mind while watching her dance: sluggish and ungainly. And there must have been a blue light sale at K Mart on day glo yellow material. What they had left over from Brandon’s outfit they used here. Glad to see they’re economizing.

Monica & Val. He could make a potato sack look good. Nice lines but not as good as Nev’s FT.

Nelly & Daniella. I had no idea who he is. I thought Nelly was a politically incorrect term for a gay person. His dance was more credible than I expected. Nice smile. Needs to teach Nev how to smile without being Oilcan Harry (old Mighty Mouse reference). I wondered about the sneakers. Glad Derek called it.

As an aside, the entire wardrobe department should be fired. It was absolutely awful. On the other hand, one of the best selections of music in recent history. There. I found something nice to say.

New Story Published

After what seems like hundreds of submissions, I got another hit. Youth Imagination liked my Best Summer Ever story. And they are willing to pay for it. No big bucks, but money changed hands. For those of us keeping count, that is the eighth story accepted and will be the seventh one published. I pulled one back for personal reasons. BSE will appear in the October issue of Youth Imagination. On that issue is out, I’ll post it here on my site. Since I’m closing in on my 80th story, that makes a 10% success rate. Not too shabby.

TRIGGER WARNING/CONTENT WARNING

I’m adding another story here that requires a little explanation and a trigger warning. I never though much about such things until I submitted this to a magazine and got a poison pen letter response. They said several nasty things and also included that I should have included a trigger warning. I’m pulling the story from submissions for awhile, maybe permanently. It has some graphic imagery, but I don’t thing it rises to the level of trigger warning. My thoughts are that if you need trigger warnings, you probably should not be reading anything on the internet. I know from experience that sexual assault is an awful experience that affects you years beyond the physical act, so don’t come after me saying I’m insensitive to survivors. I’m one. That gives me some standing. Anyway, consider this your trigger warning. Copywrite issues prohibit me from including song lyrics in a story, but imagine Wilson Pickett crooning “I’m gonna wait till the midnight hour.”

TRIGGER WARNING/CONTENT WARNING

SEXUAL ASSAULT, VIOLENCE

In the Midnight Hour

            I screamed with every fiber of my being. I screamed as if the very devil were after me, which in a sense he was. I screamed loud and long.

***

            I guess I can blame my parents for some of what went wrong. After all, they were the models who taught Bobby and me most of our life skills. And they were as selfish and self-centered as they come. Or are those both the same things? They put their own needs before everything else. It’s my opinion that if you have children, you at least spare a little thought for how your actions affect them. I mean, now that I’m fourteen I realize that my parents are real individuals with dreams and desires of their own, not just cardboard cutouts as stage props in the movie of my life. I don’t think their whole lives should revolve around the kids. But there is a middle ground where you consider your actions and how your children will see them. Our parents never had this quality.

            When I was in first grade, Bobby was my hero. He was ten years to my six and although he wasn’t the biggest kid in fourth grade, he could soundly thump any second grader who dared to pick on me. He took his role as big brother seriously. And soon he branched out to thump the bullies who picked on my friends. All the girls swooned over my handsome brother, and as it became clear he was protecting my girlfriends, they all wanted to be my friend. First grade was rather grand. But not our home life.

            That was the year Mama and Daddy began going through a rough patch. Daddy worked at an office and Mama stayed at home. I’m not sure, but I think the trouble involved money. They would snipe for what seemed like hours, reminding me of the distant rumbling of a big storm. Then suddenly it would erupt, like a clap of thunder. Both had a temper, and they had no qualms about screaming at each other, slinging invectives and accusations. I got that word, invectives, from Mary Jane Slater. She thinks she’s so cool because she’s read so many books. I think she’s stuck up, but it’s still a cool word and describes exactly what Mama and Daddy did. He would call her lazy and a spendthrift. She would call him a lowlife cheater, though I don’t know what he cheated on. Sometimes she threw cups or plates. Daddy would knock pictures off the wall. The sound of something shattering accompanied every fight. To this day, the sound of shattering glass makes me want to curl up into a little ball.

            As you might expect it scared me. It scared me badly. I would run from my room and jump in Bobby’s bed and burrow under the covers. I’d roll myself into a ball and snuggle up to his midsection. He’d put his arms around me and whisper that it would be okay.

            “It’s okay, Joni. Don’t cry. You’re safe with me. I won’t ever let anything happen to you.” Only later would I find the wet spot on my head where his tears had fallen. He would hold me and rock me, long into the night, as we weathered the storm of our parents. He was my rock and my protection. He loved me. He said he would always protect me. And I foolishly believed him.

***

            I heard someone say hindsight is 20-20. That’s so true. You never notice all the little things people do as they are happening. Only looking back do you say, “Oh yeah, I should have noticed that.” Nobody ever thought anything was wrong with Bobby. I was the one to worry about. He was a perfect student, straight A’s throughout primary and middle school. I was a competent A/B student but had conduct issues. I just didn’t like being restricted and told what my role as a lady should be. I wanted to be who I was, not some character from history. Girls don’t talk like that, girls don’t do that, ladies don’t behave that way. All I heard was don’t. Well, I wanted to DO. So, they labeled me a problem.

            My parents quickly forgot any notes sent home. They were too busy leading their lives to worry about school problems. The only time they met with my teachers was once when the administration dragged them in for a ‘consultation’. It quickly became clear in the meeting that the teachers knew me better than my parents. The meeting accomplished little more than getting me grounded for a week. But even that didn’t last. My parents just lost interest.

            They took a little more interest in Bobby; he was ‘the Son’. However, it was only a glancing interest. They didn’t seem to notice that he had no friends. The younger boys were afraid of him because he bullied them mercilessly. His peers thought he was a jerk. At least that’s what Mary Jane Slater said. Although he was handsome, the girls avoided him because he had this permanent sneer emblazoned on his face. Everyone could sense a feeling of cold calculation emanating from him. Mary Jane said he gave her the willies. Maybe. But to me, he was just my brother Bobby.

            At home I was the problem, too. If something got broken, Bobby always convinced me to take the blame. He said that Daddy would beat him, but they would only ground me for a week. And we knew they’d forget to enforce it. It seemed reasonable, so I always went along. He remained the perfect child.

            I remember how he didn’t like it when I brought home Mr. Whiskers, a stray kitten. He said he didn’t like cats. I figured Mr. Whiskers could melt any person’s heart and tried to get him to play with the kitten. Mr. Whiskers didn’t like Bobby, though. He laid his ears back and hissed. Within two days, Mr. Whiskers had disappeared. There was a suspicious scratch on Bobby’s arm, but I never had the courage to ask him about it. I think that’s when I started to be afraid of Bobby.

            Just before the Bad Stuff happened there was a telling moment in the car. Bobby was sixteen. He had just gotten his license and Mama and Daddy would send him on errands in the car. He loved to drive around. One night, Mama sent him to the store for something. She told him to take me along. It had been raining earlier, and the streets glistened like silver in the early evening under the streetlights. He was driving Daddy’s big Oldsmobile. As we were driving through a residential section, we saw a couple out for a stroll. I tensed when Bobby sped up. What was he planning? As we roared past the couple, he swerved to plow through a puddle sending a wave of muddy, oily street water over the couple. As we kept going, I could hear them yelling. I looked back and saw we drenched them. They were shaking out their coats, furious at what had happened. Bobby had a satisfied sneer on his face.

***

            Late summer meant evening thunderstorms. A short time after the incident with the car, we were having a late-night boomer. I used to be afraid of thunder and lightning. I would go jump in Bobby’s bed and cower under the covers while he held me. I understood the weather now and no longer needed his reassurances. This storm seemed to circle us. It would intensify and then simmer down, only to start up again a few minutes later. It went on into the night.

            BOOM

            I snapped awake. I had been dozing, not deeply asleep as the rumbling went on. I opened my eyes just as lightning flashed the room. In the brief light, I saw the outline of a man. Terrified, I couldn’t move or speak. Another flash revealed it was Bobby. I was so relieved. At sixteen he was almost a man, now.

            “Bobby, what are you doing here?” I whispered. He came over and sat on my bed.

            “I couldn’t sleep. I remember how you used to come sleep with me when there were thunderstorms.”

            “I was a little girl then. I know thunder can’t hurt me now.”

            “Little Sis is growing up,” he smiled as he said it. I could tell because the lightning briefly illuminated his face. “Can I hold you for old time’s sake?” He pushed back the light sheet I had over me and stretched out next to me. He wrapped his arms around me like he used to, but we were closer to the same size, so it didn’t work like it once did. He was shirtless, wearing only his pajama bottoms, and it felt weird for him to be holding me like this. But I let him. For old time’s sake.

            When he laid down beside me, a part of my nightshirt caught under him, causing it to pull taut against my chest. The lace decorations rubbed roughly across my newly budding breasts, causing me a quick intake of breath. Each breath caused it to rub again, and I found I was breathing shallowly to avoid it. I could feel Bobby’s breath on my neck, hot and uncomfortable in the humid room. I shrugged trying to create a little distance, but Bobby wouldn’t let go.

            “Bobby, let go. I’m hot,” I complained. He relented a little. The movement caused his hand to brush across my breast.

            “Oh. Little Sister’s nipples are hard. You excited about having a man in your bed?”

            “Don’t be stupid.” Luckily, the dark kept him from seeing how deeply I flushed.

            “I don’t know. Seems kinda definite to me.” Then to my horror he began stroking my breasts. Involuntarily, the nipples became even harder. “Seems like somebody likes this.”

            “Stop it. Stop it, now, Bobby. Stop it or I’m telling.” A renewed flash of lightning illuminated an iciness I had never seen in his eyes before. He slapped my face, then grabbed both my wrists and whispered directly into my ear. “You ever say anything about this, and I will hurt you. I will hurt you so bad you will never forget.” He removed one hand from my wrist and began brazenly fondling my small breasts.

            “Don’t,” I whimpered. He stopped, then he placed his hand on my neck and began squeezing. I couldn’t breathe. I could see his still silhouette, dark against flickering light from distant lightning, his face in shadow. I tried to pull his hand away with my free hand. Then I began hitting him in the side with my fist. Nothing moved him. I began seeing sparkling lights around the edge of my vision. Suddenly he released me. I gasped as much needed oxygen returned to all my systems. I wanted to get away from him, but he still had me trapped. I feared what he might do to me.

            “Don’t fuck with me,” he hissed. “I can make you suffer.” He returned to fondling my breasts. “I can hurt you in ways you never imagined. Just like that fucking cat. Why not lay back and enjoy it?” While my anatomy had little choice but to send sensations of ecstasy, my brain interpreted them with disgust as my brother assaulted me. Tears slid from my eyes as I cried as silently as I could. He slid his arm under me to encircle my neck, reminding me he could strangle me if he so chose. His other hand slipped under my cotton shirt and then slid down inside the front of my panties. I had only been having my periods for a few months. I silently wished I was having one now. He deserved to get a bloody hand. I clamped my eyes shut as he tried to slide his finger into my opening. I was dry and it hurt. At the same time, I could feel him pressing his groin into my backside, the lump in his pajama bottoms noticeable. He humped me like this for a few minutes then stiffened with a groan. We lay still for a moment. Then his arm around my neck began to close. I had both hands free and reached up pulling at it. Once he felt he had made his point, he eased the pressure.

            “Remember what I said.” Then he crept out of my room. I felt so dirty I wanted to get in the shower right then, but how would I explain that in the middle of the night? I balled myself up in my sheet, buried my head in my pillow and sobbed until I fell into an exhausted sleep.

***

            Even my self-absorbed mother noticed my pale complexion and dark smudged eyes the next morning.

            “Goodness, I hope you’re not coming down with something,” she said as if every childhood illness I had was done for the express purposes of inconveniencing her. Bobby glared at me with a warning in his eyes.

            “I’m fine,” I mumbled.

            “You’ve always been so sickly,” Mama said. What the hell? I’m hardly ever sick. “Sunshine, here’s never been sick a day in his life.” Mama ran her hand over Bobby’s hair. ‘Sunshine’ beamed at her. I wished them both dead.

            Bobby didn’t return that night, but I couldn’t have stopped him. My door had no lock. I considered pushing my dresser in front of it, but it was too heavy to move.

But Bobby was not done with me yet. Not by a long shot. Every few nights, I guess when the teen-age urge got too much to bear; he came to my room. I just closed my eyes and tried to be elsewhere in my brain. That didn’t last as Bobby wanted more participation from me. I just dully looked at him the first time he said that.

            “I’m going to stick it in your butt, your pussy, or your mouth. You decide.” My first thought was the butt, so I wouldn’t have to look at him, but I considered how painful that must be. I refused to play his game, so he decided on my mouth. That didn’t satisfy him, though so he would jerk himself and then finish in my mouth.

            By this time, anyone paying attention would have noticed that my life was falling apart. I ate almost nothing, I rarely bathed, never washed my hair, spoke to no one. I had no interest in taking care of myself. I just wanted to be dead but was too afraid to do even that. Mama decided I had anorexia and lectured me nearly daily. She also said if I didn’t take better care of myself, she would come into the bathroom and scrub me herself. Like that would ever happen.

            My few friends left at school knew something was wrong but didn’t know how to reach me. I withdrew and shut everyone out. One of them one day texted me a magazine article about ‘Girlpower’. It was all about stepping up, defending yourself, being your own person. All the things I used to be. It brought tears to realize how far I had fallen. It also caused me to take stock. Bobby would be at home at least two more years so I could expect the abuse to go on that long. I knew there was no way I could live like that. Something had to change. The easiest way was to kill myself or failing that, him. But how?

***

Looking back, I’m surprised how long it took me to realize that there was another path out. It was brazen, Machiavellian and very much the old Joni. It was dangerous, but I had to go for it. The next time Bobby came to my room, I chickened out. He had me conditioned to submit to him. I realized it would be harder than I thought. Not knowing his schedule made it more difficult to psych myself up. Two days after my last attack, I noticed Bobby fondling his testicles in the living room when he thought no one was watching. It aroused him. I knew I could count on a visit that night.

            Late, after everyone else was asleep, he slipped into my room. There was a half moon, making everything in my room seem silver. I could make out Bobby’s figure with the silvered permanent sneer marring his face. He knelt on my bed, pushed his pajamas down to his knees, and straddled me. I gathered up my courage and said I was tired of the same old thing. Why not try putting it in my pussy? Even in the dim light, I could see his eyebrows go up in surprise. He quickly shifted his knees and laid down over me, fumbling under my shirt to strip away my panties. I had to work quickly. As soon as he sprawled on me, I wrapped my legs around him, locking us tightly together. I threw both arms around his neck and pressed as hard against him as I could. Then I was ready. I screamed with every fiber of my being. I screamed as if the very devil were after me, which in a sense he was. I screamed loud and long. I continued screaming until I heard the thumping from my parents’ bedroom. Bobby was fighting, trying to get free but could not break my hold. As my bedroom door burst open and a second before the light came on, I released him and began beating at him. My scream changed to “Get off! Get off me!”

            “What the hell!” Daddy roared as the light flickered on. The tableau he saw was me trying to cover myself and Bobby crouched over me, pajamas down, cock erect and a guilty look on his face. Daddy was on Bobby in a second, grabbing him by the neck and actually throwing him across the room. Mama rushed to me, pulling up the sheet to cover me and shielding me in her arms.

            “In your room!” Daddy yelled at Bobby, who scurried out like the vermin he was.

            “Oh, poor baby,” Mama crooned. Maybe she had finally found her calling.

            “Did he hurt you, I mean, did he do anything to you?” Daddy asked. I made my eyes wide and round, looking fearful. I shook my head.

            “He said he’d hurt me if I said anything,” I whispered, just loud enough for them both to hear.

            “Oh, baby,” Mama cuddled me again. Daddy stormed out. In the light from my overhead fixture, I saw him turn left to their bedroom. He came back a moment later carrying his big leather belt. He entered Bobby’s room, across the hall from mine. Bobby would get a thrashing. Good.

            “It wasn’t like that, Daddy,” Bobby whimpered. “She wanted it.” The smack of skin on skin sounded loud even across the hall. Daddy had given Bobby a good slap to the face.

            “I don’t want to hear another filthy word out of your mouth! Pull those pajamas down. You seem to know how to do that well enough.”

            Mama held me tight, but she cringed with each smack of the leather across Bobby’s backside. Various cries and shrieks from Bobby accompanied each blow. It was all music to my ears. He got fifteen licks. Nowhere near enough, in my opinion. Daddy stopped at Bobby’s door as Bobby lay on his bed sobbing.

            “Don’t come out of this room until I come for you.” With that he slammed the door with all the finality of a jail cell.

            “Are you really okay, kitten?” Daddy said, sitting on my bed, morphing from avenging father to tender father in an instant. I said that I was but let them know about Bobby’s bullying at school, his implication in the disappearance of Mr. Whiskers, and all the times he had bullied or talked me into taking the blame for things broken or gone wrong. I may have added a few that were my fault, but I was building a case here. I also poured out a flood of tears, but these were real. I found that once they started, I couldn’t get them to stop.

            “My God! My poor child. I had no idea. How did you let this go on?” he angrily asked my mother. She was quick to take the bait, and they readied for another battle.

            “Please don’t fight. Not tonight. I’m scared. I’m afraid of what he’ll do to me.”  I managed to say this between whimpers as my bout of crying died out. They both looked ashamed for a moment.

            “Don’t you worry, baby. He won’t ever hurt you again.” Daddy promised. Wow. Maybe military school? Daddy went down the hall to the pantry. When he came back, he had a length of cord in his hands. He wrapped one end around the doorknob to Bobby’s room and secured it. Then he tied the other end to the door to the bathroom beside my room.

            “You’ll have to use our bathroom if you need one tonight, but at least we know that little creep can’t get to you. You’re safe now. Tomorrow we’ll figure out a permanent solution. Do you think you can sleep?” I nodded, dashing tears from my face.

            “I think I’ll sleep here for a while,” Mama said. “I’ll just feel better knowing my baby is safe.” Wow, Mama was in the running for Mama of the Year. She and I dozed for about an hour, then she got up and went to join Daddy. I laid there for a minute. One more thing I wanted to do. I got up and crept across the hall to Bobby’s room. I scratched softly at his door.

            “What?” came his ragged, tear-stained voice.

            “Bobby, it’s me,” I said with sympathy in my voice. “Does it hurt so awfully bad?”

            “Y-yes,” accompanied by a sniffle.

            “Good!” And I slipped back into my room.

Always and Forever

Some stories just kind of land in my head, coming from some mysterious place in my subconscious. Others have to be built from pieces that I find laying about my head. This is one of the latter. I was driving to dance practice one afternoon, the day after my birthday in 2018 and felt the urge to write so I began thinking about my next story. I had only written seventeen stories so still had no idea what I was doing (as if I do now at 75 and counting?). I decided I wanted to write about college aged individuals. I thought about people I knew in college and interesting things that had happened. For some reason I remembered a girl who drew the attention of another girl who befriended her and then refused to let her have a social life. She consumed her. I wondered if that ever happened to guys. So I decided to write about it. Then I went and danced for an hour.

After dance practice on the drive home I came up with the names of the characters and some of their characteristics. It’s important for me to know who my people are since I like to allow them as much agency as they will take. That may sound a bit crazy, but I recently read an article that showed 63% of authors allow their characters to drive the story. I’ve believed in doing that for a long time but just didn’t say much since people would think I’m crazy. At least I know I’m in good company.

The female detective in the story has an interesting genesis. I was having some issues with a part time job. I had to contact the home office (on the other side of the country) several times. The person I spoke with was a Ms. Garza. I thought, “What an interesting name.” I have never met Ms. Garza but my detective is kinda like how I envision the employee. I’ve even brought Detective Garza into other stories. Why drop a perfectly good character with whom you are already familiar? And once again, it’s written first person. I seem to prefer that style. I guess it’s my vicarious way of having a life. Anyway, here’s my tale of a touch of madness.

Always and Forever

            “I must be cursed,” I muttered, head in hands, elbows propped on my knees. Bryson sat beside me on the sofa. He put his hand on the back of my neck and kneaded lightly.

            “Come on, bro. You don’t believe that,” he murmured.

            I turned my head to look at him, my eyes red and swollen from crying.

            “How else do you explain it? Every girl I like something awful happens to her.”

            “Well, you do seem to have rotten luck, but that’s all it is. God ain’t out to get you or any shit like that.” He smiled, but didn’t laugh. The situation was too grave.

            “I think someone forgot to tell God.” I had been a wreck all day. I got the call early that morning from Francie that Jenny, my Jenny, my girlfriend Jenny had been killed in a fall from the seventh floor of her dorm. The dorm had outside walkways to the suites with only waist-high railings. I always thought it was kinda unsafe what with how we college kids get, but had never heard of anyone actually falling. Until now. Now Jenny. Aw, shit. Here I go again. I can’t stop the tears.

My roommate Bryson is a champ. He’s been sticking close, getting rid of callers and visitors, keeping a bottle of water nearby, handing me Kleenexes. Taking care of me. He’s good at that. Always has been. Ever since freshman year. We met when he rescued me from some jocks. They seemed to think it was fun to pick on someone significantly smaller. Bryson jumped in, bumping chests with the leader, called him Shit-For-Brains and stood them down. He’s not any bigger than me, but he doesn’t take shit from anyone. He reminded them and they slowly worked out in their lumbering jock way that if they took the time to beat us up, they would probably get in trouble with their coach, might even miss some games. We’ve been best friends ever since. We room together, hang together, pledged the same frat together, and go places together. People say we even look like brothers. In a way, we are. Best friends, always and forever.

“Kev, why don’t you go lie down for a while,” he suggested.

“Yeah,” was all I could muster, and trudged back to my bedroom. It was what, 1 pm? Yeah, Sunday afternoon. Bryson was right behind me.

“I got a lot of homework to do, so I’ll be in the living room if you need anything. I’ll get us something to eat later. You don’t worry about it,” he told me. Yeah, Mr. Take Charge is on duty.

***

I managed to get some sleep and felt much more human by that evening. Numb, but human.

“Crap, I think I have an Econ quiz tomorrow,” I said, looking at my books for the first time since Friday.

“You aren’t seriously thinking of going to class tomorrow?”

“Well, yeah.”

“Dude. You just had a shitstorm all over you. You are in no shape for some dickhead professor’s quiz. I hate to be blunt, but a death in the family is an excused absence. Take it, bro. You need it, whether or not you think so.”

“Jen…” I couldn’t get her name out without choking. “She wasn’t exactly family.”

“Girlfriend, same thing. You guys been together for a couple months. In college that’s like years.”

“I’ll see how I feel in the morning. Right now, I think looking over my Econ notes might keep my mind off other things.” But it didn’t. Saturday night Jenny should have been with me but had texted that she didn’t want to see me. I called, but she didn’t answer. I texted I was coming over and she texted that she didn’t want me to. So I sulked around the apartment. And now, this. Shit. I should have gone over.

***

Monday morning was gray and threatening rain. It was a perfect match for my mood. Bryson was up and puttering around early.

“Dude, you look wasted. Did you even sleep?” he asked.

“Some. I need to get up with Francie. See if she knows if they have made any arrangements. For Jen… Jenny.”

“Oh yeah, she called. Said the police haven’t released her to her family yet. Being pissy about drugs being involved.”

“What? Jenny didn’t do drugs. At least not that I know of,” I said. But I hadn’t thought Marcie was still doing drugs, either.

“Girls do some crazy shit when you ain’t watching ‘em.”

There was a knock at the door. Bryson started for it.

“You want to head back to your room? I’ll get rid of whoever it is.”

“I have to face our friends sometime. I’ll just leave if I feel like falling apart. I think I have that part perfect by now.” I amazed myself that I could say something so flippant.

There were two strangers at the door; a man and a woman. They were dressed in nice suits, nothing fancy, just business attire. Jehovah’s Witnesses, I thought? They introduced themselves as Detectives Garza, a short, matronly female and Wilson a taller, tired-looking man. They asked to come in. Bryson didn’t move from the door.

“We’re dealing with a tragedy right now. Come back some other time,” he said.

“Yes, that’s what we’d like to talk to you about,” said Garza. “Are you Kevin Jennings?”

“No, and he’s not seeing visitors right now. He’s had a shock. As I said, maybe later.”

“And you are?” asked Detective Wilson.

“I’m Bryson Johns. This is my place, too.”

“Look, Mr. Johns, here’s the deal,” Detective Wilson said. “We need to talk to Mr. Jennings about a suspicious death and we can do it nice right here, or we can send some uniforms to firmly assist on his presence down at the station. You can pick.”

My skin went cold at the word ‘suspicious’. What the hell?

“Bryson, let them in,” I called to him, standing to walk to the door.

“You sure, bud?”

“Yeah. I need to know what’s going on.”

Detective Garza brushed past Bryson. “Well, Mr. Jennings, we were hoping you could tell us.” She crowded into my personal space.

“Me? All I know is what Francie told me.” I backed up a step.

“The roommate, Francine McDonald?”

“Uh, yeah.”

“Why don’t you tell us what you know, beginning with the last time you saw the deceased,” Garza instructed. Well, so much for the pleasantries.

I gasped a little as my throat closed. My Jenny was now ‘the deceased’? I realized I was hyperventilating. Bryson was suddenly there beside me, leading me over to the sofa.

“It’s okay, bro,” he crooned to me softly. “It’s okay. Just breathe slowly.”

Then to the detectives, “You dicks are scaring the crap outta him. Can’t you see how broke up he is?” Bryson said accusingly. He planted himself between me and the detectives. “I have enough pre-law classes to know what you can and cannot do. Now you go easy on him. If you upset him again, this interview is over.” He sometimes goes bulldog when defending me. I always feel so safe when he’s around. I haven’t always surrounded myself with the best of people. But knowing that someone has your back no matter what, is so comforting and even humbling. It’s also kinda great. I know Bryson has my back.

The detectives looked sourly at each other, and then Garza nodded. They all sat. Bryson sat on the sofa beside me, lending me strength. The detectives sat in the two chairs facing us.

“Mr. Jennings. I’m sorry for your loss. I understand this can be a difficult time for you. We just need to find out what you know. Miss Stanton’s family needs closure on this, just like you do,” Detective Garza said, proving that she could play nice when she wanted. “When did you last see Miss Stanton?”

“That was Friday night. We were at a party at my fraternity.”

“Delta Tau Upsilon?”

“Yeah.”

“I understand you and Miss Stanton seemed to have some kind of disagreement that night. Can you fill me in on that?”

“What? Oh, it was nothing. She said she thought I was flirting with some other girls.”

“Were you?”

“What? No! Jenny is my girl. Was my girl,” I said as my throat closed again. I swiped at the tears. Garza had the decency to wait a moment. Bryson handed me a tissue and put a hand on my arm. The simple gesture gave me strength.

“Why would she think you were flirting?”

“I don’t know. She said someone told her to keep an eye on me. Probably one of her bitchy girlfriends. You know how girls are.” Detective Garza’s steely glare showed that perhaps she did not know how girls are.

“So you didn’t take her home?”

“No, she went with a girlfriend.”

“One of the ‘bitchy’ ones?” Garza asked sarcastically.

“Sorry. I’m just a little frazzled,” I said. Bryson glared at the detectives.
            “Easy, detective,” he warned.

“So you didn’t see her last night?” Garza asked.

“No.” I elected to leave out the angry texts.

“Saturday night. Date night. I thought you’d be with ‘your girl’, as you call her.”

“I think she was still pissed about Friday and said she wanted to cool off.”

“You think?”

“Well, she didn’t say why. Just that she didn’t want to see me,” I said huffily.

“So you went to see her, talk some sense into her?” Garza led.

“What? No.”

“Did Miss Stanton do drugs?”

“No, not as far as I know.”

“And how far is that?”

“I don’t know. She never mentioned drugs.”

“We got a tox screen,” Detective Wilson interjected. “Seems she was high on acid. She flipped right over the rail outside her suite. Seven floors down is a long way to fall. Maybe she thought she could fly.”

“Hey!” Bryson said forcefully. “I done told you, if you can’t be civil you can take your ass outta here.” Wilson bristled, but Garza’s hand on his forearm settled him.

“Yes, she could have fallen accidentally. Or someone could have helped her. Her suitemates said they were at a mixer. She stayed up in her room. Alone. They didn’t know about any LSD,” Garza continued.

“So what has that got to do with me? I don’t do drugs.” At least not anymore.

“Where were you Saturday night?”

“I told you. Jenny didn’t want to go out, so I stayed here.”

“Can anyone vouch for you?”

“I can,” said Bryson.

“Bryson,” I said warningly. “Don’t lie about this. You were at the frat. You tried to get me to go. I just stayed here.”

“Mr. Johns, if you have had all those pre-law classes you would know that lying to a detective is a misdemeanor. Don’t make me take you in.” Bryson just continued glaring. At this point I’m not sure Detective Wilson could take Bryson in.

“I don’t think anyone saw me here, but I was here. I’m innocent until proven otherwise.”

“Interesting turn of phrase, Mr. Jennings. Do you feel guilty about something?

“No, just a figure of speech,” I didn’t like her tone.

“We have a witness who places you at Miss Stanton’s dorm about 8 pm. ME says she fell about 10 pm. Why are you and your friend lying about your location on Saturday evening?”

“Bryson was just trying to be helpful in his own clumsy way. But I’m not lying. I was here. Anyone who says different is lying.”

Garza stood up abruptly. “I think that’s all we need for now. We’ll be in touch if we have more questions. I know you college kids have restless feet, so please notify the police if you plan to leave town. Good day.” They showed themselves out as Bryson and I sat on the sofa stunned.

“Dude. They think you did it. We need a lawyer.”

***

I was a basket case. On top of losing my girlfriend, now the cops think I killed her. How do things like this happen? Thank God I had Bryson. He called my parents when I asked him to. I was too freaked out to talk to them. They said they were calling a lawyer they knew, and he’d help me. Mom stressed that I not talk to the police without him present. And the standard parent lines—Don’t worry. Everything will be okay. We love you.

***

I went back to classes on Tuesday, for what it was worth. In three classes, I took exactly zero notes. I have no idea what the professors said. I’m not even sure I was in the right classes. Nothing makes sense right now. This will play hell with my grade point average. I guess your GPA doesn’t matter too much in prison. Shit. This is serious. I’m so fucking scared.

***

Detective Garza contacted me late Tuesday and invited me down to the police station “to fill in some gaps.” I told her I’d come in Wednesday if my lawyer could schedule it.

“Lawyer? You have something to hide, Mr. Jennings?”

“No, but you and your friend seem to have painted a bull’s eye on my back. I’m just making sure you play by the rules.” I was amazed my voice held steady long enough to say all that.

“Whoa, dude. That rocked!” Bryson exclaimed after I hung up. “Show ‘em you got balls.”

***

My folks’ lawyer friend, Mr. Fallon, had an office in town and he set aside time for us to talk and then said he’d meet me at the police station. He was very reassuring. He said that so far all they had was “supposition and innuendo”. “That and five bucks might get you a latte at Starbucks,” he joked. I felt so much better. Then I told him everything and his demeanor changed. He became grave.

“I’m glad you told me. They are sure to find out and use this against you. I’ll do what I can to get ahead of it, but it looks bad. Still, no smoking gun. Garza’s a bulldog, but she’s fair. Wilson is a piece of shit.”

***

I pictured the worst from all the TV cop shows, but I wasn’t put in an “interrogation room”, or cuffed to a table or anything. We met in a relatively attractive, comfortable office. Mr. Fallon was at my side and reminded me I didn’t have to answer anything I didn’t want to and to look to him if I had a question.

Garza led with her ace.

“Mr. Jennings. Did you ever know a Marcie Gray?”

Oh shit.

“Yes.”

“You are aware that Miss Gray is deceased?”

“Of course I am.” What are you, stupid? I said in my mind.

“In what way did you know Miss Gray?”

“She was my girlfriend during sophomore year.”

“And you know how she died?”

“I object to you baiting my client, Garza. You have the file; you know exactly what he knows.”

“Just trying to get it in the record for this case. She died of a bad reaction to poisoned street drugs. Seems she got hold of some speed with a high strychnine content. Isn’t it coincidental that both your girlfriends died from drug-related causes?”

“That’s not a legitimate question, Garza. And the record shows that my client was in no way involved in his friend’s drug use. He didn’t know she was using and definitely wasn’t her supplier.” Except I did know she had used, and I knew her supplier. I just thought she had stopped.

“So he says. It’s just the old smoke and fire adage. But let’s move on. Do you know a Laurie Lee? I believe you called her Spooky Lee?”

“I don’t call her that. At least not to her face. She was Marcie’s roommate. She’s weird. Everyone calls her Spooky. She moved in with Darlene after Marcie died.”

“Yes, I see that here. It seems that Miss Lee and Darlene Massey didn’t care much for you. They said you were abrasive, argumentative, made threats and hit Miss Gray.”

“That’s a lie! I never hit Marcie. I’ve never hit any woman. Spooky and Darlene were a couple of bitches. They did everything they could to turn Marcie against me. Then they told lies about me.” The arguments I had with Marcie were mainly about those two bitches.

“Now why would those nice girls say such bad things about you? What did you ever do to them?”

“Nothing. They just couldn’t stand that Marcie didn’t have time for them when she was seeing me. They wanted her all to themselves.”

“Yes, and you and Marcie fought about that, didn’t you?”

“Hold on, Garza,” Mr. Fallon said. “What are you getting at?”

“I’m just establishing that your client has a problem controlling his anger issues around women.”

“What anger issues?” I exclaimed.

“Garza, we’re here as a courtesy. We’re not here to help you go on some fishing expedition.”

“What anger issues?” I asked again.

Garza continued. “Isn’t it true that you have a prescription for Ativan to control your violent tendencies?”

“What? No! It’s for agitation and impulsivity. I have trouble concentrating sometimes. That’s all. Why are you trying to make me sound like some kind of lunatic?”

 “Yes, impulsive actions like helping someone fall from the seventh floor, or adding strychnine to speed, or sending dead flowers and a chopped up doll?”

“We’re done here,” said Mr. Fallon, disgust dripping from his voice. “Come on, Kevin.”

“Wait a minute,” I said. “What dead flowers? What chopped up doll? That’s crazy stuff. Hold on, Mr. Fallon. I want to know what they’re talking about.”

“I’m talking about Paula Warren. Recognize the name, Mr. Jennings?” My stomach dropped.

“What? What’s happened to Paula?”

“Why should you care? I believe when you broke up she called you a ‘monster’ and to leave her alone. Paula seems to be one of the lucky ones. She withdrew from school before someone could kill her.”

“I didn’t know she withdrew,” I said. I really didn’t. I had dated Paula briefly during my junior year. She said something about harassing phone calls and noises outside her apartment. I slept over a few times to check, but nothing happened. I mean, no harassing calls or prowlers. Plenty else happened, but that’s neither here nor there. Then she said she thought it was me doing it. Someone was feeding her lies.

“Well, what did you expect after you sent her a box of dead flowers and the next day a box with a doll chopped up into bits? A doll with blond hair just like Miss Warren. Of course she left. For her own safety.”

“What? I never did that. That’s sick.”

“Well, the UPS guy picked your picture as the guy who sent it.”

“But that’s impossible. I never did anything like that.”

“Then, there is Susan Cummings.” The nightmare seemed never ending.

Garza continued. “You dated her after Miss Warren. We have a statement from her you seemed mentally unbalanced, and she was afraid of you.”

“I don’t know what was going on with Susan. She said someone was stalking her and leaving threatening messages on her phone. She said someone called and told her I was crazy and would hurt her. I wouldn’t hurt her. I’ve never hurt anyone. Why is this happening to me?”

“Well, look at it from my perspective,” Garza began reasonably, too reasonably. “I have four girls here, two dead and two terrified. And the common denominator is you. What am I supposed to do with that?”

My first thought on what she could do with that probably wouldn’t help my case so I went with my second thought.

“I’m being set up. Someone is trying to ruin my life. I’m being systematically set up.”

“Now what makes you so important that someone would go to all this trouble to ruin you? Doesn’t really make sense, does it?” Garza just looked at me.

“It’s that Spooky bitch. She’s behind it. She told me she would get me one day. Said she wouldn’t rest until everyone knew what a monster I was. Monster. That’s it. Both Paula and Susan said someone told them I was a monster. It’s not exactly the most common word. It must have been Spooky. I’ve seen her slithering around campus lately, turning up where I am, like she’s stalking me.”

“And why would Miss Lee think you’re a monster?”

Oops.

“Um, because I took Marcie away from her. She was very possessive. She hated me for taking Marcie. I don’t know. She’s crazy. She probably blames me for Marcie’s death. If she’s the one who told you I was at Jenny’s on Saturday, you can forget it. She’s out to get me.”

“Yes, I’m sure we’ll be talking to Miss Lee. Now are there any other girlfriends, dead or alive, that we should know about?”

“Not funny. Not at all,” Mr. Fallon said. He put his arm around me and escorted me from the police station.

***

“So according to your lawyer, they got nothing on you?” Bryson asked.

“Yeah. Put together it all looks bad, but there’s not enough facts there to hold it together.” My interview with the police still freaked me, but I was starting to calm a bit.

“Unless they find more evidence,” he cautioned.

“No. There is no more evidence. I didn’t do anything. It shouldn’t have gone as far as it already has.”

“Hey, man. Not to scare you, but police plant evidence all the time. It saw a TV show about it. They could come in right now and claim they found a kilo of cocaine and lock your ass up forever.”

“I’d just tell ‘em it was yours.”

“That’s cold, man. After all I done for you, you’d rat me out like that?” he asked, acting wounded.

“In a heartbeat.”

He had a point. I don’t think Detective Garza would plant evidence. Hell knows what Detective Wilson would do. Mostly he just sat in and glowered at me. He’s got Bad Cop down pat. Garza’s Good Cop could use some work.

“It’s that Spooky bitch who’s the problem. I bet she set the whole thing up.”

“What spooky bitch?” Bryson looked bewildered.

“That crazy girl who was Marcie’s roommate. She hated me.”

“Oh, yeah. The crazy one. I remember her.”

“The cops will talk to her. I’m sure she doesn’t know about you or she’d have the cops all over us by now.”

“You sure about that?”

“Pretty sure. She hates my guts. She knew I introduced Marcie to a dealer. She just never knew who. Marcie was smart enough not to tell her.”

“You don’t blame me, do you? I mean, you know I didn’t try to hurt anyone?”

“Bry, we’ve been through this. I hated you for a while. I know I accused you of killing Marcie. But I saw how it affected you. You couldn’t have known you had a bad batch. That was your source’s fault. We all took our chances using street drugs. And if anything good could come from such a fuckup, at least it made you turn your life around and me stop using. You know I’m good with what happened.”

“Yeah. At least I was low-level enough that my connection just beat me up and said there’d be worse if I ever opened my mouth. Piece of cake.”

“I watched you, Bry. What happened with Marcie almost killed you. You blamed yourself. You didn’t even argue with me when I blamed you. You were in a very dark place. As much as I loved Marcie, it hurt me more to see you in such pain.”

“But you pulled me through, bro.”

“Hey, that’s what bros do. It’s me and you, bud. Always and forever.”

“I do remember her and that Darlene chick, with the white-painted face and all the black clothes and shit. A real freak show.”

“Yeah? You know Darlene thought you were pretty hot.”

“Oh, don’t tell me stuff like that. There are some things you can’t unhear. She was the spooky one, you ask me. What’d Marcie ever see in them, anyway?”

“You get thrown together freshman year, make friends, and it sticks. Look at us. Except for the fact that you are apparently hot to Goth chicks I don’t know what I see in you.”

“Same at you, asshole. But you know that’s not true. We have something special. This strange connection. I felt it the first time I saw you. We’re a good team.”

“Yeah, it’s weird how it just happens. What are the odds of finding someone who can end up as close as we are?”

“That’s what Marcie said. That we’re good for each other. That we look out for each other. She’s the only girlfriend you had that I ever really liked. The others didn’t stack up. Paula and Susan were no way good enough for you. Well, I kinda liked Jenny. But you two were getting way too serious. Sometimes it felt like you were leaving me. It’s me and you, bro. Always and forever. We’re bonded. We belong together. I’m no homo but you know it’s always bros before hos. It’s us against them. We’re like Butch and Sundance, or Thelma and Louise on testosterone.”

“As I recall, those didn’t end too well.”

“Well, you know I’d take a bullet for you, bud.”

“Yeah, I believe you actually would.” I suddenly noticed a tear roll down his face.

“What’s this? What’s wrong,” I asked with concern. Bryson never cried.

“I fucked up. I fucked it all up.” More tears streamed out.

“No man, nothing’s fucked up. We’re good.” I didn’t know what he was talking about.

“Yes, I did. I didn’t mean to. I just got so scared.” He was literally sobbing now, his breath hitching.

“Come on, dude. Let’s talk about it. You’ll feel better.”

“I can’t. You’ll hate me. I can’t live if you hate me.”

Something was really going on with him. I went over to the sofa and sat beside him and put an arm around his shoulder.

“Hey, you’re my brother, remember. Always and forever. Nothing’s going to make me hate you.”

“I love you, man. You’re my other half,” he whimpered.

“I love you, too. Always.” He had his face against my shoulder, still crying pitifully.

“I didn’t mean it.”

“Mean what?”

“All the nasty shit I said about you. It was just to make them go away.”

“What nasty shit?”

“I told Paula and Susan you were crazy, a monster. A real whack job and you might attack them. I told Jenny, too. I don’t think she believed me, though.”

I sat up, pushing his face off my shoulder.

“Bryson. What are you talking about?”

“Those girls. They weren’t good enough for you. And they were coming between us. I couldn’t let them take you away from me. I need you. You complete me. You belong to me.”

“Oh shit, Bryson. What did you do?”

“Nothing much. Susan was easy. I scared her a little with some phone calls and scratching around her condo. Once she thought it was you, she left. Paula was harder. I ended up sending her some stupid stuff, dead flowers, cut up doll. It scared her real good.” I watched as he told me this and his face lightened as if he was enjoying the memory. Then his face crumpled again.

“I didn’t want to hurt her,” he said through renewed tears. “She made me.”

“Hurt who?” I asked, but was afraid I knew the answer.

“Jenny,” he said in a small voice. Oh, fuck. Is he saying he killed Jenny? Oh fuck, oh fuck.

            “She called me to come see her that night. I won’t at the frat party. Oh, I’m so sorry. Please don’t hate me.”

            “Just tell me what happened, Bryson. Please.” I said it as evenly as I could.

            “She was mad as hell. She said she knew I’d been dicking with her, trying to scare her. She said our attachment was unnatural. Unnatural! That’s what she called us. She said she would tell you what I was doing, and you’d hate me forever. I couldn’t stand that. I love you. You belong with me.” He curled in on himself, sobbing.

            “Go on, Bry. Get it all out.” The tears were now flowing down my face also.

            “We fought. When I knocked her down, she hit her head on something and it knocked her out. I know I did wrong, but I was so scared. I fucked up. I fucked up because I thought I was gonna lose you. I had a tab of acid on me. I still deal a little. I didn’t tell you because I knew you hated it. I put it under her tongue and tied her up with her sheet. Once she was tripping, we went outside on the balcony. I told her she could fly while on acid. She wanted to try.”

            “Oh my God, Bryson.” I couldn’t come out with any more than that.

            “It hurt so bad to do that. It was even worse with Marcie. I hated dosing Marcie. It liked to have killed me to do her like that. But she was taking you away. You hate me now, don’t you?” He didn’t make it a question. He knew.

            “I fucked up so bad. If they take you, then we can’t be together. If they take me, we won’t be together. Now I’m afraid you might leave me. There ain’t but one way out.”

            He slipped his hand down between the sofa cushions and pulled out a pistol.

            “Shit, Bryson, put that thing down before you hurt someone. Where’d you get it, anyway?”

            “I’ve had it a long time. Just in case. We can really be together like this. A suicide pact. It will solve all our problems. We’ll be together forever.”

            “Yeah, I want to be with you bud, but we’ve still got a lot of living to do. There’s so much we haven’t done yet,” I babbled, playing for time.

            “I’m sorry, Kev. I fucked that up. We got no future. I guess we really are Thelma and Louise.”

            Suddenly the door burst open and Detective Garza and Detective Wilson charged in, weapons drawn.

            “Bryson Johns, drop the weapon!” she shouted.

            Bryson looked over and fired at her. The shot hit her in the chest and she actually flew a few feet backward from the impact. Before she had landed Detective Wilson unloaded three shots into Bryson’s chest. He got a surprised look on his face and dropped the pistol. Wilson raced up and kicked it away. He looked back to Garza, and she shouted, “I’m all right.”

            I grabbed Bryson and cradled him against my chest, sobbing harder than ever. He smiled and whispered, “Hey bro, you do still love me, don’t you?”

            “Of course. Just me and you, dude. Always and forever.”

            “I’ll be waiting. I know you’ll find me. You belong to me.”

***

Detective Garza filled me in the next day on all that had happened. Spooky Lee was actually working with the police. She had told them I had connected Marcie with a drug dealer and they’d been watching me to try to find him. They knew that I did not go out the night Jenny was killed. They were just trying to rattle me to see what they could shake loose. One break came from my saying that Bryson was at the fraternity party. They checked, and no one remembered seeing him there. They finally found a cam shot of a person entering Jenny’s dorm who had no business there—Bryson. At the interview at my apartment, Detective Garza noted how similar both Bryson and I looked. She got a picture of Bryson and took it to UPS and the clerk immediately identified him. He had been a bit iffy on the picture of me. The girl who said she saw me at Jenny’s dorm also identified the picture of Bryson. She later said she just assumed it was me because I was always there. From leads from another investigation Detective Garza had figured out that Bryson was the dealer who supplied Marcie. As she looked into Bryson’s past she found he had a sealed juvie record. She had to get a court order to open it. Once she saw it she called in all units and raced to our apartment. They had treated Bryson as an adolescent for antisocial and sociopathic behaviors. He became obsessed with people or things and ended up destroying them. He lied without remorse and showed no empathy. Just as she arrived outside our apartment the surveillance team watching through a part in the curtains saw Bryson draw the gun. She said she was just thankful that she had taken the time to put on her Kevlar vest.

***

I’ve tried to put this behind me. I’ve spent umpteen hours on my therapist’s couch crying my eyes out. I think I’ve shed enough tears to float a damn battleship. If getting the emotion out that way is effective, then I’m well on the way to being cured. I’ve been thinking a lot about Bryson. I knew he was clingy, but had no idea he was so sick. Am I that naïve or was he just that good at it? I’ve read up on his particular pathology and saw a lot of parallels. It’s kind of eerie looking at it in hindsight. All the signs were there. But I think they got one thing wrong. They said he showed no remorse or empathy. I believe he did. I think in the end he was sorry for how he had ‘fucked up’ as he put it. And obsessive or not, I’m damn sure he did love me. He loved me with all his warped heart. And I’ll try to remember him like that. My best bud. Always and forever.

The Visitors

I’ve decided to retire a few of my stories and figured this place would be a good rest home for them. I wrote The Visitors on April 9 in 2019. I think of it as a kind of Twilight Zone story. Imagine Rod Serling in his suit and skinny black tie, lit cigarette in hand saying “Submitted for your approval; a small world going about its business. They are about to face the unknown. Strange people from another planet. Are they friends or are they foes. Or maybe a little of both. Little do they know they have just crossed over to… The Twilight Zone.”

The Visitors

            The Visitors arrived nearly a year ago. It seems longer. It’s amazing how quickly the astounding becomes the commonplace. We just take it in stride and keep on going. Astounded hardly encompasses the world’s reaction to the knowledge that other sentient beings inhabit our universe. We were all taken by surprise. Contrary to the conspiracy nuts, the government had no prior knowledge of aliens nor were we keeping extraterrestrial bodies in cold storage in some secret government bunker. From the clearance I have in my job with the Global Security Department I know these things.

            As you are surely aware, we have been watching the sky for ages looking for signs of other life. Since the modern era, we have used radio telescopes and electronic imaging to test for evidence in the night sky. Ironically, we did not detect the Visitors until they were nearly upon us. Their ship’s small size, low reflectivity, and we suspect, stealth technology, rendered them invisible to our instruments. Once our astronomers detected them, it was clear they were headed toward us and only a few weeks out.

            There was general hope that the news might encourage holdouts to join the world body. We have been marching steadily since the advent of the technological age toward one world government. It is only common sense considering the global marketplace controlled by trans-national corporations. Nationalism had become old-fashioned, even quaint. All the democratic republics and constitutional monarchies, basically the western hemisphere, quickly merged. The totalitarian regimes, whether philosophical or religious, refused to cede their limited power. By the time we detected the Visitors, some 80% of the world’s population were allied with the World Union. We kept the olive branch extended to the holdouts. As you well know, they were intransigent. The world was quickly leaving them behind, but they refused to budge. There was hope that the knowledge that there were aliens, possibly hostile, might move them to join in the common defense. Sadly, it did not.

This was the major concern. Were the newcomers hostile? As we huddled around our TV sets, computer screens, tablets or phones, that was the great fear instilled in our hearts. What were their intentions? Our world was in sorry shape, but it was ours. It was home. Yes, we’ve polluted the oceans, clean water is becoming more and more rare, deserts are encroaching. We’ve multiplied like vermin, never stopping to consider can we sustain this growth, this lifestyle? Everything has a tipping point. Have we passed ours? I think more were coming to think the consensus was, yes.

            We had hoped that with the economic might of the new World Union things might change. Poverty, hunger, homelessness would be eradicated. Maybe space flight to find elsewhere raw materials that were disappearing here. But the structure makes the government unwieldy and infighting is rampant. Politicians are more concerned with maintaining their power, than aiding the world. Now this new potential threat had them talking to each other, consolidating, using the word “we” a lot more.

#

            A few days out, we began receiving radio signals from the craft. We put our best people on it, but it remained unintelligible. It repeated; the same message over and over. There was general hope that the message was “We come in peace” and general fear it was “Throw down your weapons and keep your hands where we can see them”. Commerce slowed to a standstill, the markets plummeted, and the world waited. Troops were called up and all our military capabilities were primed but were we really any match for a civilization that could send ships across the galaxy? 

            The Visitor craft took up an orbit farther out than one might expect. Our strategists quickly surmised that this was to place them outside the range of our most advanced missiles. Neither a hostile nor peaceful move. Simply prudent.

            Our cryptologists had not been sitting around wringing their hands. They had streamed linguistic information to the Visitors. They hoped that between their linguists, ours, and the common language of mathematics, a dialogue could quickly be opened.

            Our space-based telescopes were all trained upon them, scanning them in every way devisable–visible spectrum, x-ray, infrared, ultra-frequency, even with newly discovered gravitational waves. It revealed not much. The craft was outwardly inelegant, at best. But I guess that really isn’t a concern in interstellar space. It was the general size of an ostentatious house. You know, the kind to prove to the neighbors you aren’t struggling like everyone else.

            Then our astronomers received a message that we could understand. It said, “Meet us” and listed geographic and time coordinates. It turned out these were the coordinates of the newly established world capital. And the time was high noon. The Visitors had apparently learned enough about us to know we were politically aligned and that our Union spoke for most of the world.

#

            My position did not get me a place on the dais at the first encounter with an alien species, but I had a closed-circuit feed that was more than what the networks could air. The crush near the capital building was incredible as the meeting time approached. I imagine every video device in the civilized world was tuned to this historic moment. The astronomers reported that a small craft had detached from the original ship. No larger than our largest automobile, it was dropping toward the meeting coordinates. Our monitoring stations reported that the module was circumnavigating the globe, perhaps to allow the heat of entry to the atmosphere to subside. Suddenly people started pointing to the east. All the cameras swiveled to that direction. Telephoto lenses could just make out a white dot approaching. More detail became visible as it neared. We could detect small wings, probably more for stability than lift. It glided with very little sound directly over the cheering crowd and came to a standstill hovering over the landing coordinates. Then it gently lowered. Standing on legs instead of wheels, it looked for all the world like a commuter plane, just with smaller wings and lower to the ground. A doorway on the side popped open and a small set of steps automatically folded out. A hush fell over the crowd. The momentous occasion was upon us. First contact.

            As the world held its collective breath, a figure emerged from the dark interior of the craft. It was tall, much taller than us and more slender. However, it was vaguely humanoid. It had two lower limbs for locomotion and two upper limbs for manipulation. The round protrusion on top was the approximation of a grotesquely deformed head. It dressed all in silver, but the ‘head’ was bare. It was ugly. No doubt about that. Beyond just alien, it was incredibly ugly. Also, quite hairy. Its skin appeared to be rubbery, almost like a mask. What appeared to be eyes were too close together and with oddly shaped pupils. What I assumed were ears were too large and set at an awkward angle. It had some sort of metal register in front of its lower face. I found this was a device that amplified its voice and translated its words to our language. Our President bravely strode across the space separating them. The lights flickered as hundreds of cameras recorded the historic moment. When they met, you could tell that the visitor was a full head taller than the President, and we considered the President tall. The President hesitated, not exactly sure of the protocol. The Visitor looked at him and raised its right forelimb, hand extended. I could see it had an extra digit. The President smiled and grasped the hand. The cheering was deafening.

#

The following day’s newspaper headlines summed it up. “It’s official: They come in peace!” crowed the Chronicle. “We are peaceful, says Spaceman,” reported the Monitor.  I, along with everyone else in the world, breathed a sigh of relief. Not only that, but what wonders might they show us? Cures for stubborn diseases? How to bring back drought-stricken lands? Cheap, clean energy? The speculation of hoped for wonders was endless. Had we survived our long childhood and were now about to take our place among the interstellar community? What wonders await?

            I pulled every string I could to get myself into meetings and on panels working with the Visitors. Not only was I curious, but it definitely would boost my career prospects. That is how I became privy to information that many will never know.

            They told what their name for their race was, but it was unpronounceable to our mouths. We had no writing system that stood for the unusual sounds. It loosely translated to “people of the world” We continued to call them the Visitors.

It also turned out the Visitors were new to spacefaring, only having recently developed a hyperlight drive. Their leader was cagey about how it worked and was unwilling to give our engineers access to his ship. He glibly advised that they could provide us some scientific help but did not want to disrupt our development by dumping technology we were not prepared for into the marketplace. They said their home was far out in the Sagittarian Arm of the Milky Way galaxy. There were ten of them and they were en route to explore a world near Epsilon Eridanus when a previously undetected black hole had slung their ship off course. They detected our radio waves and came to explore our solar system. There was some damage to their ship, and they asked our help. Our President offered the world’s resources. Undoubtedly, this would open up many avenues for new technologies.

#

The Visitors intrigued our ethnologists and biologists. There were apparently two genders like us, they reproduced sexually and brought forth their young live. They seemed like us in many ways. But there were also the differences. Something about them was incredibly repulsive, almost like an innate dread of their appearance. It surprised me to find such xenophobic bigotry within myself, but soon found many of my friends felt similarly. They were just so, well, alien.

#

Their leader made his first appearance alone. However, when the President wanted to honor them with a state dinner, eight came. Their leader said someone always had to be monitoring the ship. Also, the leader sent down ahead of time food for him and his compatriots. He said our food was unpalatable to his kind. The President’s chef was crushed. He was hoping for world headlines and appearances as the chef who served dinner to the Visitors.

            Their leader toured around a bit, making appearances, speaking of a new age of cooperation between our people. He assigned his subordinates to selected factories to retool them to coordinate the repairs on the alien ship. No one factory got all the business. It was spread out so that the technology could not be held secret. The Visitors said this was their gift to the planet.

#

            It seemed to go so well. First Contact had been made and we would all be great friends. At least that is how it appeared. Although I am bound by confidentiality rules to never disclose my part, I like to feel that I had some hand in saving us from certain invasion.

            I have a lifelong friend who must remain nameless whose teenage son is extremely adept with technology and doesn’t mind operating on the shady side of the law. He boasted to me his son had hacked into the old Department of Defense back before the World Union. And he covered his tracks, so they never knew. He couldn’t prove it, but I had no real reason to doubt him. I had yet to see a system his kid couldn’t break in to. He wanted his son to tell me of a discovery he had made. He had hacked into one of our space-based telescopes near the Visitors’ ship so he could look at it. Simple curiosity. He discovered what he considered a major flaw in the Visitors’ security. Their ship-wide intelligence network was not shielded. He could detect the radio waves much like our internet. I scoffed that he could link into an alien system when my two brands of office computers can’t even talk to each other. He said it was simple engineering. Physicists like to proclaim that we cannot know if the basic laws of mechanics are the same everywhere in the universe. But he said hackers know that there are only so many ways of packing information and sending it electronically. The simplest, most elegant design is a binary system.

#

            When he brought his son in to see me, I could see something had upset him. The kid’s wide eyes and rapid breathing made me realize he was scared. He told me he had uncovered frightful information. He said I should probably take it to the President. I asked him to walk me through what he had found. He said that hacking into the Visitors’ system wasn’t very hard for someone as adept at him. But the initial flaw he discovered wasn’t exactly a flaw. Once into the system, he found all the important files and documents were encrypted. Even he had failed at breaking the alien encryption. Technology, logs, mission notes, everything was off limits. Except the library. We assumed the library was not encrypted to allow crewmen to easily browse the collection. Using a translation app which had been leaked onto the internet, he translated some titles and downloaded a few books.

One was a general history of the Visitors. He showed me the translation, and I was appalled. The Visitors were at best vicious marauders, nearly like locusts that pick an area clean and move on. Every civilization they have encountered they have enslaved, robbed and subjected to genocide. They had nearly destroyed their home world and were now searching for new ones to rape. That was likely to be the fate of any unfortunate world around Epsilon Eridanus. And now they had found us. I used every bit of capital I had to call a special meeting of the President and military chiefs that night.

#

            The President and his men were aghast at our claims, saying there was no way the Visitors were lying to us as we were saying. Why should they believe some teenage criminal? They said he could have easily created fake documents to deceive them into believing the Visitors were working against us. In the end, due to my insistence the President arranged for several of his most adept technology people to sit with the boy. He opened up his computer, hacked into the space telescope platform, and then intercepted the Visitors’ intranet. He browsed into the library and downloaded several documents. Even a few pages of the most innocuous seeming book immediately illuminated the Visitors’ credo of taking what they wanted by force. The President and his chiefs were all there to witness this. It was a somber group that reconvened in the Situation Room in the early hours of the morning.

#

            Many hours later, they were agreed. It seemed the Visitors had been thrown off course and their home world was unaware of our location. Their mechanism for sending a message to their home world would not work this close to our planet and in this area of space. It was imperative that they not leave or find any way to contact their home. The fate of the world was at stake. One of the President’s tech advisors asked for a private moment. They huddled and eventually seemed to decide. The President cleared the room of everyone except the four top military generals, his technology advisor and me. I could remain because I had brought the Visitors’ perfidy to light. My friend and his son had to leave.

            The President outlined an audacious plan that if discovered could be disastrous, but no more disastrous than the Visitors revealing our location to their home.

#

            Several weeks later, the repairs were finished, and the Visitors said their time with us was at an end. The President ordered a big farewell banquet in the capital city. Once again eight of the Visitors attended. They made speeches, toasts were returned, and the camaraderie seemed genuine.

            After the final speech, the President joined the Visitors and prepared to walk them out to their landing module. Suddenly a shot was fired. The secret service men swarmed the President and ushered him and the Visitors quickly into a protected area. The protected area was filled with soldiers who quickly mobbed the Visitors and got them into shackles. The leader seemed to recover his wits quickly and tapped the communication device on his lapel.

            “Blake, it’s a trap. Get the ship out of orbit. Now! Come in. Come in.”

            “I’m sorry, captain,” the President said. “Your ship is no longer available. We have discovered what you are and cannot let your people destroy us as you have countless others. The parts we repaired for you, several contained explosives. We detonated them at the same time we arrested you. I regret the loss of your two crewmen, but the rest of you may remain as our guests. Perhaps we can find ways to work to our mutual benefit.”

            “You lying, lizard-faced son of a bitch,” the leader growled.

            Our President clicked his foreclaws at such an insult. “Perhaps, but I have saved Darzha from the plundering and pillaging that the history of your Earth is rife with. Hopefully, our history will remember me kindly for that.”