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2

Mel Llorwyn wasn’t always how he is. He wasn’t always an open-minded, slow-rolling, woman-killer of a mage. At one point, he didn’t even have magic. Or pants. No, pants were merely a myth for Mel, then Mel Mason, having spent most of his life in shorts and a hoodie, trolling the tri-state area of a locale that people usually remember only two of the three states involved. It was in that third state he spent most of his days, born and raised. His father, Bart Mason-Llorwyn, never exposed him to the world that would soon consume him, a horrifying, staggering amount of it that was maimed from his entirety before he was ever born and forced to wallow in the shadow until that fateful day in May.

He was about to graduate from a school with a name that made far too much sense. After all, was it wise to advertise to the rest of the world that your entire teenage population was high? It wouldn’t have mattered; the education was just as much a joke as the name. Mel was one of the top five in the class, and he couldn’t remember a day that he hadn’t fallen asleep in it. Not even phys. ed. He was very much a saw-powered jogger, and now, nearing the end of his long, dreary, mundane high school experience, with a grand total of four dates, all failed because he found them boring (none of them would shave the salami he brought or taste his taco cheese), nineteen friends that he already forgot the names of and faked knowing every single day, seven internal detentions for falling asleep in class, two expulsion attempts because they thought he was cheating (they didn’t care how good a student he was, after all), and forty-one accumulated skipped days because why not, he was about to put on his little black dress, walk the aisle, strutting his stuff, then get topless with everyone else as it devolves into an orgy of black and red caps in the sky.

But that was still a week away. Tonight, he had plans with said “friends”. He walked into his house in the wonderful and not rusting away downtown district of a town missing a D in its name (after all, the place had a ton of weird), tucked in the hillside along a street that he kept hoping would lead to sour dreams. Why did Freddy never visit him; they could have had such fun together, but no. He stayed away from his dreams filled with anchovies riding unicycles made of bear arms and sausages with Austrian accents demanding to be eaten. They could have slid down the honey comb mountain with the British bees telling them that it was most unorthodox... and then had him help convince the queen to join in their debauchery. He could never get her to come along; she always simply demanded to buzz into her chambers to give her some royal jelly, but she always looked so disappointed when he did and started to churn the butter in the corner. She asked for royal jelly; where else was he going to make it?

But those dreams were long gone, and so was his chance to be fingered by Freddy. He was too old now, already technically eighteen being born at 12:01 in the morning, and he knew he preferred them almost legal –or at least acting almost legal. He thought about maybe taking one of the floozies from school for a little of that good ole premarital sex along with some mari-joo-wana and ber to entice him, but that seemed like too much work. Not only that, his mom, Stacy Mason, wouldn’t have looked too kindly on that. There wasn’t a day that you didn’t see her wearing at least one of her thirty-odd something crosses, and he always felt a bit bad with the life-size portrait of Jesus on his door looking upon him in his room every night. That didn’t stop him from doing what he needed to do, but it did give him a slight twinge. But then he remembered that’s what he died for, and that only made him feel a bit better for the second row each night. If he didn’t sin, He died for nothing.

Stacy was in the kitchen that evening, humming away with the Christian metal playing through the entire house. She had on a bright yellow sundress, clashing with her long, black hair, almost blue in how it shined. Her green eyes always seemed to glow, beaming upon Mel as he trudged into the kitchen from the entry, a straight hallway to it, and to the fridge, pulling out four cheese sticks.

“Hey, sweetie,” she said, still chopping away at the vegetables on the cutting board, readying the onion for the kettle on the stove. “How was your day?”

“Stuff,” he said before heading into the dining room to the right. A week or so ago he would have lobbed his backpack onto the quaint, round, wooden table. He would have pulled out his books, readied his paper and pencil, and promptly messed with his phone until it was time to eat, but now he only had his phone and his sticks of mozzarella and cheddar twisted around one another. He peeled them quick enough out of the packages, but took longer to pull them apart, savoring every bite of culinary perfection that was string cheese. “You?”

“Well... I had a chat with the dean at the community college. He’s a member of the church, as well.”

“No doubt.”

“Well, I put in a good word for you... which wasn’t really necessary. Turns out he’s heard about you already and was waiting for your application. He gave me one for you to fill out.”

“I don’t care about most things.”

“I know, dear, but you should still get some type of diploma.”

“I am. In a week.”

“Above a high school education.”

He sighed, finishing off his first stick, and started to peel the second.

“Fine... What’s his name?”

“Ted Larson.”

“Ah, f-”

“Language!”

“Sorry! Sorry... I dated his daughter, Brie.”

“Brie... Brie... was she the tall one?”

“She was the one with the huge tits.”

“Oh! Her! I remember now... Did you two hit it off or-”

“Nah. She wouldn’t help me make the macaroni slip-and-slide. She bored me.”

“And that’s perfectly fine, dear. Find somebody who accepts and complements you. Though you might want to try to find a compromise.”

“I did! I didn’t say we had to add the cheddar cheese sauce.”

“But that actually sounds delicious.”

“I know, right? I now want shells and cheese.”

“So do I, but I already started the potato soup. Your father will be home soon, as well.”

“Then, after dinner, I have plans to go out with friends.”

“You don’t want to stay in with us? Tonight of all nights?”

“Though it is tradition, one way or another they’re going to get me out of here. Even if they have to throw a rope through my window and have me land on a large waffle.”

“I mean, you should be fine as long as it’s blue- or mixed berry. Chocolate chip is questionable, but buttermilk will give.”

“No doubt.”

She sighed, and water hissed as she rinsed off the knife and put it back into its block. She padded into the room and hugged Mel from behind, kissing his cheek.

“Just be careful, okay?” She said... and handed him a one-hundred dollar bill. “Happy birthday, baby.”

“Thank you for expelling me from your vagina, mom.”

She slapped the back of his head while tittering. “You’re welcome.” The door rustled, and she let him go. “Your father’s home.”

“I don’t care about most things.”

“Finish up your snack while I get this soup boiling. Shouldn’t be more than thirty minutes.”

“Right right.”

She returned to the kitchen, and the door finally opened in the entry. A long, loud groan filled the house, turned to almost a tawdry moan as two, solid objects thundered to the ground. Aftershocks followed, feet landing solid and flat in the straight hallway to the kitchen, and a belly appeared before the man behind it. His poor shirt tried so hard to keep his man boobs held firm against its soft, blue fabric, but the bottom of it couldn’t keep in his girth, showing the wobbling bowl of jelly. But no one would dare call him fat, not even the narrator. No sir. Not with those pythons for arms, the sleeves simply gone from them, and his thick, toned legs. For every ounce of fat he had, he had a pound of muscle, built upon a six-foot four-inch frame. Mel looked back to see that brute prowl towards his mother, that shaggy, greasy black mess of hair lean forward, over her shoulder... and give her the lightest peck on the cheek.

“Hey, darling,” he said, his voice... high-pitched. To say he would have made a good Mickey would have been an understatement. “How was your day?” She told him what Mel had already acknowledged once, though it was embellished with the fact that she was out shopping and ran into him, and Bart let her go, lumbering into the dining room with him. He snagged the last cheese stick and plopped into the chair beside, begging for its life to end. Bart had a full beard, a mixture of red, black, and brown, twisting and coiling into a single point before his pointed chin, given some softness with the rest of the flab. In truth, if it wasn’t for that flab, he would look absolutely daunting, a behemoth, a giant among men. No one would want to approach him, not under those narrow, cold, steely eyes. But Mel knew better; he knew that spark in them, with how his brows were cocked, that he was happy, that he was beaming upon him. “Looks like you already have a few doors open for you, bub. Not even graduated yet, and you have people all over wanting ye.”

“I doubt it... Besides, what would I even go for?”

“I don’t have a single clue, but what I do know is you don’t want to be like your old man. Working in a dying steel mill, in the middle of nowhere, while also working at a grocery store to make ends meet; I’m jealous. You get to avoid all of that.”

“Right.”

He guffawed, smacking Mel’s shoulder.

“Hell, I wish I was as half as smart as you.”

“But I still don’t know what I want to do... Everything... bores me... I don’t want to go into business because people are stupid. I don’t want to go into education; pay is awful and I always have to worry about every little thing I do since I’m a guy... Science was always eh to me. The most fun part was chemistry and-” He cut himself off. If his father or, God forbid, his mother, knew how much “chemistry” he actually did; that poor squirrel... He shook his head. “Nothing really interests me... It’s like... I’m missing something... There’s something missing from my life that gives me any will to do anything.”

There was silence, only disturbed by the boiling of the soup, the soft sheering of cheese as they devoured their sticks, and the Christian metal still pumping in the background. It was a truth all of them knew, but only one actually had the answer for. Bart had hoped, prayed for the longest time that he would have never had to give it, that it would break the cycle and miss two generations instead of one, which he still prayed for as they gave grace for their meal and ate. When Mel had finished, he cleaned his bowl and put it away then headed for the front porch, typing a message to the one he labeled Creepy Woody in his phone.

The flamingo does the tango with the burrito, he sent.

Ur redy?

Sometimes.

Alrighty. I’ll round up the rest.

Chickens.

He put his phone away and heaved a heavy sigh, leaning on the yellow half-wall that was the porch and looking out upon the rolling hills and houses below him. Each one was splotchy, decrepit and desolate in their own way, but each one endured, continued on, even knowing there was no true pot of perfect bacon at the end of the shit rainbow. They all had their reason to push on, though. They all had their will to survive and thrive in this wasteland.

The door opened behind him, and once more those thundering steps lumbered out onto the porch. The white boards creaked under, waiting to give, but it wouldn’t be this day.

“So going out with your friends tonight, eh?” Bart said, exhaling as he leaned beside. “Seems like only yesterday I was dangling you by your ankles off this porch.”

“Sometimes.”

He chuckled, ruffling his son’s shaggy hair.

“You were never one to give straight answers, were you? Never one to really talk.” He sighed, and let his hand rest on Mel’s shoulder, patting it. “You’re an awesome kid. You know that? You’re so smart, you know it, but you don’t let it get to you. You don’t think you are better than anybody else.”

“Because me saying people are stupid for business was so modest.”

“That wasn’t gloating; that was telling the truth. People are stupid. They’re violent, short-sighted, selfish creatures that if they find out their world is larger than what they have decided it to be they lash out. There’s more to this world than anybody wants to really accept, so they choose to remain ignorant.” He looked over at Mel, eyes beaming again, but Mel could see there was a tinge of sadness in those eyes, just below the surface. “Bub... it’s okay that you don’t know what to do. Yet. You’re eighteen, almost free of a system that had you locked into a schedule for so long, and now that you are about to be set loose... there’s a whole world to consider. So many avenues to travel, so many paths you can take... so much to do, and so little time to do it. To think about it... I’m not going to pressure you to go into anything, but an associate’s from a community college... It at least opens a few more doors. It, also, gives you a bit of time to think about what else to do while still locked into a system... What I am going to ask, though, is that you get a part-time job-”

“Already ahead of you. Put in a few online applications; just waiting for a call back.”

He guffawed again, and smacked Mel’s back.

“You see? Way too smart for me... I love you, son, and I’m so proud of you.”

“Yeah yeah. You and your drugs.”

Bart sighed and stood upright as an envoy of cars pulled into their street. Reds, blues, and grays, all making their way to their house only to slow and stop before it.

“Well, looks like your friends are here,” he said, and handed him another one-hundred dollar bill. “Take care... Your mom and I will be watching crappy B-movies, if you change your mind.”

“Tempting, but they’re already here.”

“Alright. Again, be careful.”

With that, Mel walked down the steps to the steps down to the sidewalk, twenty-four stone stairs carved into a lush hillside, then stepped down four more to the road. The back door of the first car opened as he approached, and a lad with a face only a cheese grater would love smiled at him, waving, urging him to hurry. He had curly red hair, with almost black eyes, like a doll’s eyes, with just as much of a soul inside their hollow pits.

“You ready for tonight?” He said.

“Sometimes.”

“Hell, this is the graduation party I’ve been waiting on all year,” the driver said, the dusk already hiding most of him save for his bright, white teeth. He held up a wad of one-dollar bills, whooping. “I came prepared for all you sorry white boys.”

“None of our moms work there, Micheal, so how would we know,” the ginger said.

“Maybe if she’s on duty I can get a little something-something, you know?” The man riding shotgun said, chuckling as Micheal punched his shoulder.

“Man, shut the fuck up,” he said, and chuckled even louder. “Maybe we’ll catch the band director there, as well.”

“Can you blame him?” The ginger said. “His wife’s a complete cunt.”

“Can’t keep a lawsuit off her to save her life.”

“At least she teaching the ladies around here how to dance for Rumor’s,” Micheal said, and pulled the car into the parking lot of the show bar. The “band van” was parked there, its keeper living but a street behind, making them all chuckle and continue to gossip about him being there.

They all got out, a mix of tall, short, black, white, Asian, fat, thin, fit, nerdy and jocky and all so easily forgotten by the time Mel went home and headed for the doors. The bouncer gave them wary looks, music thumping in the dark, dimly lit halls beyond, and held out his hand. Each one produced their wallets, showing they were at least legal age to go in, but avoided the stamp with a twenty for each person, allowing them to drink once inside. Mel was pushed into the front row of the pulsing room, before women doing things that their parents would find absolutely shameful –at least their mothers; the fathers were all too happy... so long as it wasn’t their own. The room filled with cheering, with exclamations and jeers, as the women did what they did best.

But Mel wasn’t finding any of it rather exciting. He could see women at any time do nastier things on his phone; he didn’t have to smell it, to feel the guilt and shame and broken hopes and dreams of the women eyeing and vying for his attention. One of them, a woman of Asian and white descent, crawled onto his lap, nipping his lip, grinding in it as he smelled her cherry blossom oil and was infected by her glitter. She eased back onto the stage, still pushing at his pants, and Mel was so happy when the first round of beer came. He practically drank the first pitcher himself, starting to warm up to the attention he was getting, but the heat and buzz of the place finally became tolerable, allowing his mind to wander.

Though the women scattered to the other tables, the other booths, this one half-and-half kept her attention on him, having won the birthday boy, and showed him ever more as Micheal kept feeding her singles. Ten went into her thong before it was discarded, giving them all an all too clear view of her perfectly shaved area... and that’s when Mel was reminded of a stand-up comedy. One that involved puppets, lotion... and a drunk ventriloquist. He smiled, remembering how it went, and cupped his hand.

“‘Hey!’” He remembered... and was surprised it actually came from down there. The woman gasped and lurched back a little, just as shocked as those before her. “‘It’s dark in here! Someone throw a rope!’”

Every single line came out of those lips, actually moving as if they were truly expelling it... which only made Mel smile wider.

“’Everyone ready for the vagina monologues!’” He made it say, and all attention was on her. Even the music had stopped. “’I’ve been dicked around my whole life. Everyone told me to have a set of balls, but no matter how many I took I just couldn’t get them... Beware! Crouching cougar, gaping dragon! Oh!!! I know twatkwondo! I can pin you and have you in submission in sixty-nine seconds. Me win long time!”

The music cut off. The bouncer came in; even the manager of the club came out of the backroom, all in awe at the sight before them. The woman was trying so hard to cover it, to muffle it, but it just kept going on. It wasn’t long before she was in tears, cupping her face as it continued to speak for her, even singing a few songs. At last, the manager finally came over to the rowdy group and had them leave as they sorted out what had transpired. Not a single one of Mel’s “friends” was sure of what to make of what happened, while Mel was silently laughing, turned to a full guffaw as he was dropped off at home. His laughter boomed through the small suburb, making him teeter on the steps, each one harder than the last until he managed to make it to the porch through sheer will. He caught his breath before heading up the porch, sighing as he opened the door.

And met a flash of light.

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