JJ DOUGLAS SAT shivering on the edge of his bed, feverishly trying to recall the details of his latest nightmare. It had definitely been horrible—of that much he was certain. However, try as he might, he simply couldn’t remember anything but sheer terror. It seemed his mind was literally frozen with fear, with echoes of that damned Boogeyman song—yet again—ringing in his ears. The latest artifact to mysteriously materialize from JJ’s terrorized subconscious, a traditional, bare-bones hatchet, lay discarded at his feet. He would have to add it to the growing cache concealed in his closet. JJ was amassing quite the arsenal, though he would’ve acquired it differently had he a choice in the means of collecting.
Why was this happening to me? JJ wondered, suppressing the urge to weep. JJ didn’t feel he was gifted or extraordinary in any way. He wasn’t especially altruistic or fiendishly diabolical. He wasn’t ultra-religious, nor was he a tried & true atheist—he was just JJ. Just JJ. But that must’ve been enough to allow him access to this otherworldly ability. Staring at the hatchet resting upon the floor, JJ heaved a deep and enormous, cleansing sigh.
JJ begrudgingly got out of bed, reluctantly retrieved the rust-stained hatchet, and trudged across the floor toward his closet. When he reached the closet door, JJ paused and gave the tree outside his window a distrustful look, before flicking the switch that operated his closet light. Opening the door and stepping inside, he took inventory of his small, but increasing armory: A broken broom handle, a tow chain with the biggest lock JJ had ever encountered married to the last link of one end, a baseball bat with two inch spikes driven through the business end, a good old fashion switchblade, and now this seriously sinister hatchet. Haphazardly depositing the hatchet, JJ quickly slipped out of his closet quietly shutting the door.
Why am I acting so sketchy? I know a handful of ninjas who would love to have even one of those deadly toys lurking in there, JJ muses to himself.
Flicking the switch angrily, JJ plopped back into bed. This boogeyman shit has to stop, he thought vehemently. Pulling the covers over his head, he tried in vain to resume tormented slumber.
Hours later JJ sat at the kitchen table picking absentmindedly at his pancakes. His loving, though hippopotamus-like mother, was at the sink washing her old work thermos. Dressed in her usual diaphanous muumuu and flattened shabby slippers. Her hair was done up all glamorous, as always; although JJ never could fathom why she bothered. Her latest asshole on-again-off-again boyfriend never seemed to notice, and it’s not like she ever went out socially anymore. Not since putting on those last fifty pounds…and the incident. Mrs. Douglas had become increasingly more of a shut-in since her accident with the broken chair at Mrs. Turner’s birthday party. Humility engulfed her, like a blood-lusting vampire on crack, draining her of any pride she might have had left in her. For JJ, between his mother and her revolving bedroom door, these effing nightmares he was dealing with, and the recent rash of child murders in the neighborhood, he wanted to be anywhere but here.
JJ felt an all-too familiar wave of self-pity cascade through him. Thinking about leaving, (he would never call it running away; running away was for pussies), never got him anything but a knot of guilt in his guts and a headache. His 18th birthday was still a few days away, but not even the thought of that could bring him joy at the moment. He knew his homey Curtis was planning the “Rage-er of the Century,” as Curt put it, for a birthday present. But it was of little consolation, sitting at the breakfast table: Three little kids were dead.
Oh hell, JJ thought. At least he could get passed out drunk and not be bothered by shitty dreams for one night. He could smoke some of that K.G.B. shit Curt was always lifting off his cousin Cletus. Go ahead and let the nightmares come: After a blunt of Cousin Cletus’ Chronic, they might not seem as bad as all that.
JJ rubbed the last of the sleep from his weary eyes. He stared at his mother’s enormous backside and wondered if he should finally say something about the nightmares and subsequent arsenal they were providing. No. Why not? Oh Hell no! Maybe she could shed some light, figure out how to stop them. Maybe she’ll laugh and blame it on hyperactive teenage hormones. Maybe a little bit from both column A, and a little bit from column B. She’d definitely flip out about the weapons in the closet.
JJ felt like a mewling little baby (afraid of the monster under the bed), running to his mommy for protection. Save me mommy, save me! Gimme a break! He could handle a few bad dreams. After all, he was almost a grown man, dammit! Oh, fuck it.
“Um, Momma. I mean mom?”
His mother stopped assembling the thermos, but kept her back turned to him. Oh shit. No verbal response. Not a good sign, JJ thought. He pushed his luck anyway.
“Mom I, I’ve been having these really terrible nightmares over the past few weeks—
—An air-horn blast obliterated the quiet spring morning.
Startled, Mrs. Douglas knocked a glass off the counter, where it shattered upon impact with the linoleum. Clutching the thermos to her heaving, ample bosom, she stared at the jagged shards of glass for what seemed an eternity. She slowly turned toward JJ, her jowls wobbling with her about-to-blubber-like-a-baby visage in full gear. To his utter amazement she kept her emotions in check, awkwardly knelt to one knee, and began to pick up the broken pieces.
“Here now, Mom, let me do that,” JJ pleaded. He hurried over to help his mother back to her feet.
“Thank you sweetheart,” Mrs. Douglas puffed. “Who—“
—HONK! The horn blasted again, ravaging the morning.
“Who in the hell is honking that damn horn?” Mrs. Douglas asked in her shrill someone’s-gonna-eat-shit tone.
“It’s fine, chill Mom. It’s just Curt. He finally got his car running again and he’s here to give me a ride to school—”
—The obtrusive horn blared yet again.
JJ tossed the shards of broken glass into the garbage can and ran to grab the broom, as his mother thundered to the front door to give Curtis Olsen a piece of her mind. “Keep your shirt on young man!” she bellowed at Curt. “Joseph will be right out! And stop leaning on that damn horn!”
So much for a conversation with Mom, JJ thought as he rushed to grab his book bag and knock-off Detroit Pistons starter jacket. As he hurried through the house to say goodbye to his mother, JJ noticed a trail of blood across the floor. Shit. Did mom cut herself? JJ thought as he looked back the way he had come. There was no blood. JJ turned back around. The blood trail was gone. WTF is wrong with me?
Curtis hit the horn again.
“I said to stop that young man! Oh, and wash your car; and get a haircut; and ask your mother to call me!”
JJ quickly planted an awkward, though not unaffectionate kiss on his mother’s fleshy cheek, as he sidled past her girth. He glanced back at his ranting mother one more time as he hastened to join Curt, who was impatiently waiting in his two-toned primer grey, broke-back, barely legal ’68 Plymouth Hemi Roadrunner. Like all of Curt’s important possessions—either pilfered or gained by blackmail—the ’68 Plymouth Hemi Roadrunner was a “gift” from his sleazy father in an attempt to keep his son tightlipped concerning a good night at the poker game, resulting in a hefty sum of cheddar.
“’Bout time, homie,” Curt grumbled, as JJ slid into the freshly upholstered red-leather passenger seat.
“Sorry ninja,” was all JJ could think to say.
“No prob, like my new interior homie? Leather,” Curt said, drawing out the last word with a savory delight and revving the only thing he considered worthy about his life—the 528 Hemi Stroker engine under the hood. This elicited a fresh wave of fury from Mrs. Douglas.
“Curtis Olsen, don’t you go getting my baby boy killed in that death-trap you call a car. Or I’ll have your head mounted on my living room wall, understand?” Mrs. Douglas roared.
As he launched his car down , Curt confessed: “Caught my dad cheating on my mom again and he paid me off to keep my mouth shut. Cost him half his paycheck. The asshole told my mom he lost it at the track. She forgave him in two seconds, like always. Stupid—they deserve each other.”
JJ didn’t know what to say. As usual, Curt was at no loss for words.
“Damn, dawg. What the fuck is her problem this morning?” Curt inquired rudely looking at Mrs. Douglas’ bulk convulse in his rearview mirror. “Something crawl up her ass and die, JJ? Ya know what I’m sayin’.
JJ was opening his mouth to inform Curt what exactly was bugging his mother this morning, when a fusty, rotten odor assaulted his nostrils. “Holy shit dude! What’s that funky, fucking smell, homie?”
“It wasn’t me,” Curt answered immediately, sniffing the air. “I don’t smell anything anyhow.”
“Well something in here seriously reeks, like bad ninja.”
“Maybe this is what your nostrils are detecting; ya know what I’m sayin’!” Curt announced, brandishing what seemed to be a foot-long joint.
JJ stifled a chuckle. He didn’t want to inhale too deeply because Curt’s car really did stink like rotting corpses festering under a hot summer sun. Where was that stench emanating from and how in the hell did Curt not smell it? JJ wondered.
“You seriously don’t smell that?”
“Nope, I sure don’t.” Curt answered, sticking the extra-long doobie between his lips.
“Your ride reeks!” JJ reached for the window handle.
Curt shrugged it off. “It’s an old car. Ya know what I’m sayin’? What’re you expecting that “new car smell” all the richie-boys are so crazy about? Shit. Got a light homie?”
Before JJ could answer, Curt shifted into third gear and gave her plenty of gas. The car shot forward like a rocket and JJ was shoved back none too gently against his seat. The next moment, Curt slammed on the brakes—screeching to a halt. Unfortunately, the sudden maneuver pitched JJ violently forward.
JJ didn’t even have time to swear, scream, or pray as his face intimately married the windshield.