Tuesday, June 25, 2013

New Short Story

Just finished a new short story, and it turned out pretty long. You might have to read it in chunks or something, but I kind of just kept writing.

The inspiration for this came from a story about a person during the Mexican-American war, sitting around a campfire with a knife in his hand. That story was pretty boring and I don't think I ever read the whole thing, but that scene stuck with me.

Hope you like it.

A Piece of Someone, Ripped

The dead man’s knife sparkled as it flipped through the night.

Its flight was short, only making two full revolutions around the black handle before being plucked from the air by the deft fingers of Brad Dohrmann, the lanky leader of this midnight rite, who had tossed it casually up to himself while explaining the rules.

As if anyone didn’t know the rules.

It was the sort of thing that could get you kicked out of Edgewater Prep, so it was no surprise that although nearly every student in the school knew about it to some degree, no one ever dared give up the secret to an adult.

Outfitted in jeans that would look more at home hugging the hips of a chiseled European male model than seated on rough stumps and rocks, thirteen boys sat around a medium-sized campfire in the woods of northern Massachusetts. It was the 27th of October, a Saturday, but it was still warm enough for only a light jacket, and most of the attendees only wore t-shirts.

It took less than thirty seconds for Brad to lay the three rules (and one addendum) that would determine which of these other twelve, if any, would leave the circle as his new brother: the newest Edge Man.

Then the knife flights started in earnest.

Ten students at all-male Edgewater, in the green town of Leefield, had the kind of charisma, smugness, and calm that cemented their place as leaders.

Offsetting their mandatory maroon vests, white polos, and khaki pants with customized sneakers and socks, fluorescent sunglasses, and enough hair gel to hold a boulder on a mountainside, the Edge Men were the standard of cool. They often came to school together, sometimes hungover, fresh from a night of escapades that their classmates could only imagine.

They were all varsity athletes, and many excelled in more than one sport. This year’s Edge Men were comprised of players from the hockey, football, baseball, and basketball teams, as well as a lone tennis player, Brad Dohrmann, who was rumored to be playing in that summer’s US Open.

The Edge Men were royalty, but that was just the start of it.

They had achieved a rare feat, in that they were admired (and, truth be told, envied) by peers and adults alike. They cut class, missed assignments, and dumped freshmen’s books in the halls.

Every student craved their respect, if not their attention. Teachers and administrators shrugged these actions off as the exuberance of youth, many among them remembering (or trying to convince themselves) that they’d done similar things as teenagers.

The Edge Men was a strict invite-only society. Two members had to vouch for a student in order for that student to even be invited to the ritual. In the early days, if someone made it through the ritual, they were in the group.

As time went along, that policy was amended.

Now, in order to be an Edge Man, it was rumored that in addition to the ritual you had to steal something from the locker room at Edgewater’s sister school, the all-female Nightingale Academy.

This particular rumor was true.

Extra points were awarded if you did it during school hours.

Operating at the highest level on the social food chain, the Edge Men were untouchable. Every girl in the surrounding towns wanted to get with them, and from the stories, it seemed like they had. That’s why it had been so intriguing when a new family moved to town in September.

A family with two teenagers: one who attended Edgewater, and one who attended Nightingale.

Eleven years prior, an 18-year-old Edgewater student named James Totten had started the Edge Men by mistake, and with nearly disastrous consequences.

The finest societies often start under similar circumstances.

Totten was drunk, as an Edgewater senior was wont to be on an unseasonably warm night in late March. His parents’ flagstone back patio was the site of an impassioned debate on the merits of the rear-entry sexual position, as opposed to those of the traditional “missionary” position.

“Dude, let’s be real, if you want control, you gotta go doggy.”

This was James, speaking to his best friend and classmate Tim Duggens. These two were joined by Dave Spirowitz, a catcher on their (as yet) undefeated Edgewater baseball team. As catchers so often are, Dave was on the portly side, and this, combined with his acne and general inability to talk to girls, had thwarted his every effort at intimacy.

He remained silent during this chat, stirring the logs in the sunken fire pit with an old 4-iron.

“Doggy’s great. Really. If you’re trying to get off, that’s the ticket. But don’t you wanna look in the eyes and kiss and see her tits and everything?”

This was Tim, the team’s star centerfielder, speaking between pulls on a Miller Lite. The correct term for him was “chick magnet,” as he stood 6 foot 2 and wore his muscles like a ropy, tailored suit over his long bones. He had had several short-term girlfriends, and fancied himself an expert on everything that happened between the sheets of his bed while his parents were at a dinner party.

“You realize how gay you sound when you say that, right?” James said, as he toyed with his father’s hunting knife that he’d used to cut the cigar on the arm of his wrought-iron chair.

A pitcher, point guard, or quarterback, depending on the season, James had long been seen as the authority figure among his peers. Girls loved him, parents adored him, and guys were drawn to him in that animal magnitude way that no teenaged boy fully understands, and which would scare him if he could grasp it.

“’Scuse me, but doggy is pretty close to butt sex when you get right down to it,” Tim retorted.

James belched. His first four beers had gone down well, but he was struggling with the fifth.

“Callin’ me gay?” he shot at Tim.

Tim summoned a belch of his own.

“I’m not NOT callin’ you gay,” Tim said, unaware that what he thought of as friendly teasing felt to James like a questioning of his still-burgeoning manhood.

“Fuck off,” James said, sitting up in his chair.

“Fuck off, yourself.”

Tim slid himself back in his chair and felt the alcohol drain out through his opening pores as he sat up.

Miller Lite and misplaced teenage anger boiling through his bloodstream, James ranged from hatred to defiance to dismissal in a nanosecond and, taking his knife by the tip of the blade, flipped it underhand over the fire towards Tim.

He meant it partially to land at Tim’s feet, similar to how the boys sometimes lobbed steel-tipped darts at unsuspecting friends’ toes when playing cricket or 501 down in Tim’s basement. Once, a dart tip had stuck in Dave’s beefy ankle for a second or two before falling out. It hadn’t hurt too much.

But he meant it partially to hit Tim, and the nearly indecipherable thought that flicked his wrist a little harder, and loosed his fingers a little later as the pendulum of the handle swung beneath his forearm and hand was: Fuckin’ call me gay, huh?

James Totten came out as gay six years later, three months after his father died of lung cancer.

Tim Duggens had played baseball since he was old enough to stand upright. He had caught so many balls, gloves, helmets, bats, cleats, oranges, apples, books, phones, pencils, bottles, and cans in his life that, as the knife came whickering over the fire towards him from James’s fingers, he wasn’t in the least nervous, even with 6 Miller Lites coursing through him.

His right hand came up and he picked the 10-inch steel knife out of the air by the blade, catching it between his thumb and forefinger. The weight of the handle combined with the momentum of the spin to rotate the knife another quarter turn in his hand, slicing a very shallow cut into the meat of his palm.

Instinctively, as if to ward off the pain and simultaneously consummate their small triangle, Tim underhand flicked the knife toward Dave, who dropped the 4-iron and snatched the blade from the air with his left, catching hand, in the same manner as Tim had. He caught it a little closer to the hilt, where James’s father’s initials were inscribed: JFT. The knife once again rotated on its axis and slipped into Dave’s palm for an instant, drawing a line of crimson blood.

This exchange between the three friends took less than five seconds. All were quiet.

Tim broke the silence with an awkward bark, somewhere between a laugh and a shout of relief; the kind of noise you might make if you were alerted that your dog was about to be hit by a truck and only turned in time to see it dart out of the way, unharmed, at the last second.

Then they were all laughing the reckless, wild laughter of the young and invincible. In the same way that some relive the night of the near-miss with another drunk driver, or the botched diving board maneuver resulting in lifelong scars, these three preserved that moment by founding the Edge Men.

Over the next several weeks, seven more members were inducted into the Edge Men via this ritual, the rules of which were agreed upon by James, Tim, and Dave almost immediately following the first, accidental iteration.

“You have to catch it by the blade,” said Tim.

“With one hand,” said Dave.

“If you drop it, you’re out,” said James with finality.

“But what if it’s a bad throw?” Dave, always the catcher, pointed out.

“Fine,” said James resentfully. “Bad throws are a re-do. We good?”

“Good,” said Dave and Tim in unison.

James notched his palm with his father’s knife, just where the other two had been cut, and they each squeezed a droplet of their blood into the fire.

The Edge Men had taken to calling the hopefuls at these nighttime rituals “cubs.” Some nature-loving Edge Man of a few years previous had come up with this name after seeing a documentary on mother bears teaching their cubs how to catch salmon as they swam upstream.

Much like the Edge Men had to catch knives.

It also didn’t hurt that the Edgewater Prep mascot was a bear.

Only two of these cubs knew each other as more than teammates: brothers Jake and Devin McPhillips. They both played for the Edgewater hockey team. The rest were a collection of newly minted varsity athletes, except for one.

Preston Peterson.

By no means a physical specimen, Preston could only approach six feet tall when standing on his biology textbook. He had wavy blonde hair that hung lightly over his high forehead, and cool grey eyes that seemed perpetually half-lidded. He didn’t talk much, never raised his voice, and would have been wholly forgettable if not for two things.

First, he was a world-class archer.

Second, and more importantly, he was the new kid.

His was the family that had recently moved to the area, his the sister who was a sophomore at Nightingale. On September 13th, just a week after the start of school, Jenna Peterson had had her panties and bra stolen from the locker room while she and her classmates ran the mile. A new Edge Man was born at her expense.

The Petersons had just moved to the town of Leefield from outside London, England. The father, George Peterson, was a world-renowned surgeon who specialized, ironically enough, in hand reconstruction. He and his wife, Preston’s stepmother, were at a fundraiser in Boston, 30 miles away. His sister was staying with her friend Rebecca McCay for the night. The $20 for pizza was still on the marble island in the center of the Peterson kitchen, untouched.

Preston, a junior, had heard the same rumors everyone else had about this rite of passage, and was convinced that his sister had been victimized by the society. He was understandably upset.
A few weeks after the underwear theft, another incident occurred, and Preston knew he had to be present at tonight’s ritual.

If you’ve never moved to a new country, you probably can’t imagine how difficult it is. In addition to losing every single person they’d ever known except their immediate family (and their dog, Gerry) Preston and Jenna had to adjust to everything that made American life different from life in England. And they had to do it all as teenagers. In private, stratified, ubercompetitive schools. It was no wonder they put their petty differences aside and became one another’s best friends.

Preston was the only person Jenna could talk to about the horrible things that Nightingale girls were saying about her, behind her back but just loud enough that she could hear. All the usual insults a British girl has to endure: cracks about her buckteeth, her mousy hair, and her pale skin. Preston pointed out that these girls had probably all watched “The Princess Bride” one too many times, and that she shouldn’t worry about it. Her teeth were straight, her hair was silky, and it was Massachusetts. If you weren’t pale, you were Italian.

Preston needed an outlet too, and took to telling Jenna about life at Edgewater. While it wasn’t quite as catty or hard to fit in as Nightingale, there was definitely an undercurrent of tension.

Yes, they laughed at his jokes, he told Jenna, but they seemed to be looking at each other while they were laughing more than at him. Preston wondered if he was imagining things.

Despite the quips, taunts, and digs they dealt with, Preston and Jenna also had a great deal of fun at the expense of their new peers. It seemed that everything important to an American teenager was a complete absurdity: the doings of various celebrities, famous for nothing more than tricking one of the seemingly infinite television networks into following them around with cameras, were a source of constant outrage to the girls at Nightingale. It seemed a daily occurrence that Jenna returned home, breathless with another tale of her classmates risking (and often receiving) scolding, extra homework, or even detention because of their inability to cease their mindless chatter.

Edgewater was no better. Preston related tales of teenaged boys who seemed to think they were experienced fraternity members. In addition to the co-ed parties that took place in the basements of misguided parents, stories of weekends spent in the woods, at the lake, or in a vacationing parents’ home, drinking like the world was coming to an end, were common. Preston checked a few of these out, and left with a strange feeling. It felt, he told his sister, like none of the boys he went to school with were really friends.

He didn’t quite know how to explain it. All he knew was that whenever there were a bunch of Edgewater guys out drinking, it felt like they were always at an audition for something. Preston supposed it was that very few of the boys knew each other before they got to school, because it was a boarding school that took kids from all over the Northeast. Every joke that came off was laughed at, but it wasn’t easy laughter. It was appreciative. Like an audience’s. Preston felt that everyone was taking mental snapshots in order to tell other people later that they were there, and to make sure that the other people knew that they missed out by not being there.

Preston wondered why people at this school couldn’t just have normal friends that you made fun of and played sports with. Jenna wondered why girls at her school felt that being different was a fate worse than death. They talked about all this late at night while adjusting to the new, American sitcoms that seemed to all feature white guys that could have been in Oasis.

Brad Dohrmann was, objectively, the meanest boy in the Edge Men. His tennis idol was John McEnroe, and it showed. Six foot three and lanky, his dark brown hair and eyes reminded some of Vince Vaughn. He had a mouth like a truck driver, ridiculing his teachers (when he chose to attend class) and demanding to know what the “fucking point” of “any of this shit” really was, anyway. He was a hard drinker, but could only do it when his father (and tennis instructor) was out of town, as he was this weekend, the weekend of the ritual. And as is so often the case, alcohol exacerbated his most prominent personality traits, sharpening his acid tongue and shortening his temper.

It was also rumored that Brad was, by a large margin, the most sexually active Edge Man in this year’s group. He was attractive, it had to be said, and his gleeful disregard of rules made him seem like he knew something that the rest of his peers didn’t. Girls liked that. The current rumor was that he had taken a Nightingale girl upstairs at a house party a few weekends previously. A sophomore.

Jenna Peterson never came right out and said she was raped.

More accurately, she didn’t even know she was a rape victim until talking to her brother.

Two weekends after her underwear was stolen during gym, Jenna went to a party at the house of a Nightingale classmate. It was a typical underage party: the curtains were closed, the parents were asleep upstairs, and the basement was a seething mass of hormone- and alcohol-fueled bodies.

Seven of the ten Edge Men were there. One of them was Brad Dohrmann.

Brad’s father was home, and that meant Brad was home by 11, and sober. No exceptions. So as 10:15 crept closer to 10:30, Brad finished up his last beer pong game (with a win, as usual), begged off playing the next game, and went hunting.

Hunting, as you can probably guess, was the Edge Men term for looking for chicks. Although most teenage boys could reasonably be said to always be hunting, the Edge Men used this term most often in Brad’s situation – a party was a great place for a hunt. There was nothing fancy or difficult about it for most Edge Men, it was a simple game of locate, stalk, and kill.

Brad located Jenna Peterson standing in a small circle near the stairs. Swaying slightly in her four-inch heels, on her third vodka and Sprite, Jenna was an easy target. A quick smile, a few words, and a shoulder squeeze, and they were off up the basement steps.

Jenna threw a quick look back over her shoulder at the girls in her circle. In the days afterwards, the girls that were in that circle would discuss what that look meant at length. Some said she almost looked excited, but others were convinced that it was the alcohol giving her forehead and cheeks a rush of high color.

Everyone agreed, however, that she looked scared.

The next day was Saturday, and Jenna was supposed to go with some Nightingale girls to the lake for what could be the final day of summer weather.

She couldn’t get out of bed, and texted the girls to go without her.

At 11:00 AM, her mom came in to check on her.

Jenna said she felt sick, but didn’t know why, and her mom brought her a cup of tea.

At 11:30, Preston went in to check on her.

It went like a police interview, in question-and-answer format.

Had she had sex? Preston asked.

Yes, Jenna said.

With who?

Brad Dohrmann.

Was it OK with you?

Yes, she said, she had thought she wanted it. At first. But then, she said, it stopped being fun. When Brad started pawing her clothes off, it stopped being fun very quickly.

“Did you tell him to stop?” said Preston immediately.

Yes, she said, she had told him to stop.

“Did you yell to someone?” he demanded.

No, she said, she did not call out for help. She didn’t want to wake the parents.

“Fuck the parents,” Brad said, a broken quietness creeping into his voice. “Fuck all the parents in the whole fucking world, Jenna.”

And he laid down next to his sister, and held her, as she came to the same awful realization that he had been afraid of all along.

The group in the woods was dwindling rapidly. All the bravado of the well-lit and boisterous Edgewater hallways had vanished like so much smoke in the night.

As each cub took their seat directly across the fire from him, Brad, seated on his cooler full of Bud Light, gave them a quick “Ready?” before flicking the knife up and towards them.

A few got lucky, one was good, and the rest left the circle, dreaming up excuses for why they were walking through the front door after midnight, some with their hands wrapped in paper towels.

Twelve cubs took the “hot seat,” located directly across the fire from Brad, with hopes of becoming the newest Edge Man. Four escaped the first round of throws. Of the other eight, five simply couldn’t bring themselves to put a hand in front of the flipping knife, and let it thump harmlessly into the ground behind or beside them.

Three had tried and failed. One unlucky boy, Cody Miller, had lost the nail, and nearly the tip, of his index finger. Another, John Myers, had closed his hand too early and received a bone-revealing slice through his pinky and ring fingers. The third, a timid sophomore named Sean Fitzgerald, had tried to be brave. He really had.

His older brother was Pete Fitzgerald, a wide receiver on the football team. A star. An Edge Man.

It hadn’t mattered. Sean found out the hard way that entrance into the Edge Men wasn’t legacy-based, and the bloodstains on his bike’s handlebars never truly faded.

The relationship that the Edge Men had with their cubs was complicated. Of course, only one Edge Man was present at every ritual, and only one cub, if any, succeeded in surviving the ritual. To survive, you not only had to be the last one standing (or sitting, to be precise), but you had to catch a final throw from the Edge Man present.

This throw was not supposed to be any different than the others in speed or angle. However, the final throw always took place in solitude, as every other cub had already returned to their homes. This was when favoritism took over.

The Edge Men weren’t supposed to play favorites. Every toss was supposed to be the same to every cub. This policy had been adopted about 5 years previous, when a particular Edge Man had a preexisting beef with a cub, demanded to be the moderator at the ritual, and used him as target practice.

It never got that bad again, but that’s not to say that no one played favorites. And over the course of the night, as Preston Peterson caught two tosses thrown his way, and was one of the final two still sitting around the now-guttering fire, Brad Dohrmann found himself developing a liking for this boy.

This was exactly what Preston wanted. Brad was not a complicated person, and Preston had known many like him. He was a boy who pumped himself up by putting other people down.

Preston desperately wanted to be on the receiving end of that last throw, and he had decided early on that the way to get there was to get Brad laughing. After all, who wouldn’t want a witty Brit in their social circle? Not to mention one with such an attractive sister.

Preston didn’t talk much in school because of his accent; he didn’t feel it was worth the effort to talk about something he already knew in class just to hear snickers and a quick “Pip, pip, cheerio!” from the back of the classroom. On this night, however, Preston was at his Sunday, football-match-watching best, belittling cubs who dared not try to catch the blade with a derisive “G’wan then, off ya go” or a subtle “Fuckin’ wanker.”

Brad loved it. First, because he had more time to drink his Buds with this Brit cursing kids out.

And secondly because, as a pleasant surprise, the kid turned out to be a natural.

It so angered Brad, who had always been the most gifted athlete of his circle, to see kids who were just afraid of the knife. It was like kids who were afraid of the ball in tennis, he thought. How hard is it to just reach out and catch it? Hell, half the kids had been scared to throw it back to him because they projected their asinine fears onto him! It was like they forgot how he got into the club.

Preston was different. Though the Brit was six inches shorter, Brad saw something of himself in the kid. The easy, flowing movement. The way the whole body reacted as the knife sizzled over the fire towards him. He did have a strange catching motion, Brad had to say. Most cubs (the ones who didn’t piss themselves) caught the knife and continued its motion downwards, loosening and dropping their hand and arm, as if that would somehow stop the knife from obeying gravity, turning on its axis, and scraping their palm as the handle fell.

Preston had a new idea, gleaned from his archery background (of which many students, including Brad, were oblivious). Rather than catching it with a loose hand and letting the knife continue its path towards the earth, Preston pinched the blade between his thumb and closed fist, hard, and drew it up and away, past his ear, as if it were an arrow he was nocking to a bowstring. His incredible hand-eye coordination, combined with his unusually long fingers, never let the blade get near the junction of his thumb and hand.

Brad had never seen anything like it, and he began to relish the idea of Preston getting into the Edge Men, and the stories they could tell of this night. Brad felt like an NFL team with the first pick in the draft, locking up a future Hall-of-Fame player.

He started to play favorites.

His next toss, to the only other cub left besides Preston, was high and right. From Brad’s point of view.

From the point of view of Andrew Dodds, the junior shooting guard for the Edgewater Prep basketball team, and the aforementioned cub, the toss was heading straight for his face.

Dodds had a vision of a circle of dark navy blue sky ringed by an outline of black, with a streak of pure silver that shot through almost too quickly to register. He heard a rustle of twigs and dead leaves behind him, which now seemed above him. He had not tried to catch the knife as it hurtled through the space where his head had been one second before. He was now lying faceup on the forest floor, another in the long line of cubs that didn’t get to become Men.

And then there were two.

Andrew’s crunching footsteps faded fast, swallowed by the sounds of the night. Brad and Preston, Man and cub, each fell into a two-second long reverie. The fire had long since lost the high, bouncing intensity given by burning shingles and fence slats. Three thick cedar logs held each other up like teammates after a hard-fought loss. Low flames curled around their ridged sides, illuminating the red heart of the wood. Tree frogs chirruped, audible for the first time as more than white background noise. An owl called, a nervous “hoo” echoing through the clearing.

The firewood shifted. A flurry of orange sparks, sprung from their prison, raced each other up into the darkness.

The two boys returned to the moment, one more slowly than the other.

Brad Dohrmann was, as Preston’s father would say, “well and truly pissed.” Empty blue Bud Light cans littered the ground at his feet, and his cooler sounded ominously empty as he thumped it with the handle of the knife.

“You know why I like you, Brit? You know how to talk.” Brad was obviously going to engage in some friendly banter before the final toss. This was fine with Preston. He had all the time in the world.

“Thanks, mate. Just tryin’ to make your job a bit easier,” Preston said. “Some of those nutters had hands like feet.”

“Hands like feet, see that’s good stuff right there,” mumbled Brad, rummaging around in the cooler for another beer.

The cooler was empty. The small talk would have to end.

“Well, the beer’s gone, why don’t we get this shit over with, eh Brit?” said Brad as he settled back down on the cooler.

Preston waited a half a breath before answering.

“It’s been over for a long time,” he said quietly.

Brad looked up. Something was off. He’d been at two other rituals, one as the moderator, and obviously his own initiation, and there had been a definite nervous tension in the air. But this was different. Preston was looking at Brad through those half-closed grey eyes, his lithe body perched loose but alertly on the stump across the fire.

His answer was wrong, Brad’s sluggish brain warned. Something was wrong with that. Definitely.

But Brad couldn’t make the connections. It seemed like an innocent enough statement, a simple statement of bravado from someone who knows he’s better than the competition. But if Brad had had the full faculties of his brain available, he might have seen it for what it was.

A threat.

He might have noticed the cloudy grey eyes through the firelight, the same color as the eyes of a girl that he casually took at a party a few weeks previous. He might have connected the accents of the only two British people he’d ever met in any meaningful way as being from the same family.

He might have seen what he did to Preston’s sister as rape.

But he didn’t.

Instead, he tossed the dead man’s knife one final time.

Preston reacted as he had done all night: he captured the knife’s edge expertly between his thumb and the side of his curled index finger, and pulled it up and back in an instant so it was poised beside his right ear.

In that moment, Brad had time for one thought, and it wasn’t the one he expected to have. Instead of being overjoyed at being the one to have initiated this new Edge Man, he found himself thinking: Huh, he looks like he’s pulling back the string on a bow.

Preston left the clearing, but not before taking the phone from between Brad’s slick fingers and dialing 911. It was a bit difficult, owing to the pink blood streaked like fingerpaint across the iPhone’s display. The last thing he heard as he stalked up the path to where he had stowed his bicycle were Brad’s weak groans for help. They were unintelligible for the most part, but Preston secured himself in the knowledge that the GPS would lead first responders to the location before Brad bled out.


He also secured himself in the knowledge that, with Brad’s BAC well above the legal limit, this would be seen as an accident.


Brad Dohrmann did live. That was probably for the best, as there would have been a pretty thorough investigation of what happened in the clearing that night, and the term “accident” would have been swiftly ruled out.

But while he survived, he was by no means whole.

Preston had always heard that being raped robs you of a part of yourself. Being a boy, and an adolescent one at that, he had never paid much attention to the saying.

Until what happened to Jenna. Seeing her usually bright and mischievous eyes turned to dull saucers, and her quick giggle replaced by monosyllabic responses from between pursed lips, Preston finally understood what it looked like when a piece of someone was ripped from them.

So, when he found out who did it, and shook the grapevine until he discerned the identity of the Edge Man who would be the moderator at the next ritual, it was almost too perfect.

Preston Peterson was a world-class archer. His room was filled with trophies, and his coordination and aim were impeccable. When he wanted to hit something with something else, he rarely missed.

That night in the woods, he hadn’t.

Brad Dohrmann had lounged back on his cooler after tossing the knife the final time, clad only in white LeBron James basketball shorts and a black wife beater. His legs were planted outside shoulder width on the ground, to give him a place from which to swing the knife on its preflight pendulum.

Preston had snared the blade and whipped it up to his ear in a millisecond. As the bowstring thought meandered through Brad’s head, Preston had flung the knife back.


End over end it had come, scything through the spark and heat-filled air, directly over the heart of the fire pit. Brad never even began to move out of the way as the knife sliced through his polyester shorts and took away a part of him that he would never get back.

Brad Dohrmann lived, but he was never able to father children. According to the official hospital report, he suffered an acute laceration of the penis, a punctured testicle, and a nearly total traumatic amputation of the scrotum. The doctors were able to save his penis, although at a diminished length. However, due to blood loss, trauma, and risk of infection, Brad Dohrmann’s only option was to become a eunuch at the age of 18.

About noon on the day after the ritual, Rebecca McCay’s mom dropped Jenna Peterson back off at her house. Jenna opened the front door, a dark red oak-paneled portal with frosted glass windows, and walked slowly into the kitchen.

Preston was making a peanut butter sandwich. He turned when she entered the kitchen.

“Did you hear?” he asked.

She nodded, holding up her phone, the only answer a teenager needs these days when asked if they’ve heard the news.

And he saw, for the first time, a hint of diamond’s sparkle return to his young sister’s grey eyes. 

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