When the truck slammed to a stop, Emory’s head bounced off the back window, and he caught Eugene as he slid into him. Dazed, a ragged old man stepped out of the bushes, and raised a shotgun and point it at them. Emory could barely make the man out. It looked like he was wearing threadbare old clothes that had been stained with blood and vomit. The man looked like hell and could barely walk a straight line. He was clearly intoxicated. That was not a good thing. Emory reached for his weapon, but his sister Emily put her hand on his and shook her head. Emily’s wide eyes told Emory that with a matter of pumps that gun could put a lot of hurt on them.
Emory looked around at his friends and family in the truck. His sister Emily was holding her girl friend Becky’s hand. Becky had a look of fear on her face that no 19 year old should ever be forced to express. Eugene his six year old younger brother had taken refuge in his girlfriend Margot’s arms. Margot looked at Emory for an example of what to do. At 16 years old he didn’t feel like he was qualified to be any kind of leader to the group.
In the cabin of the truck sat the two women that had saved their little family in their time of need. Jennifer sat with her hands glued to the wheel. Her mother Debbie sat with a double barrel shotgun across her sun dress. Debbie was a spry 65 year old woman and Emory wondered how her daughter half of her age kept up with her. The silence was only a few seconds but to Emory it could have been a lifetime.
“Put yer guns on the ground and get out of the truck real calm like and nobody is going to get hurt,” voice yelled from the front of the truck.
“Alright, mister. Just don’t shoot us,” Emily yelled back. Everyone including and threw the guns out of the truck, and they all got out with their hands held high.
“Everyone over here on their knees. John, get your stinking ass up here. Keep your gun on them in case they try to get cute,” the man said, laughing.
The two men were holding them hostage at gunpoint. The taller of the two men was thin and unshaven. He appeared to be their leader, as he was the one barking out orders. On the inside of the man’s left forearm were Nazi tattoos of some sort. Things were going from bad to worse, Emory thought as he looked at his sister’s girlfriend, who was black. The woman he had fallen in love with sat on her knees next to him. She was Korean, and he didn’t like the way this white-power fascist was looking at her.
They all did as they were told, lining up and getting on their knees. Emory studied the faces of the men. They looked old, beaten, and broken. They looked like they had nothing to lose. This was not good. Not good at all.
“If you want the truck and the gear, it’s all yours; just let us go,” Jennifer offered.
“Why in the hell would I do that? You all got something I need, and so many flavors to choose from. Which one should I taste first, Cecil?” He licked his lips and stared at the girls.
The man he had called Cecil was shorter. He was cranked out of his head on some kind of narcotic as he shook and shimmied all over the place, looking at the group. He wore a leather vest with no shirt on. The man’s whole body was covered in Nazi and Nordic symbols. The man paced up and down and looked at the group while holding up his gun and pretending to shoot them.
“Damn, Hank. They all look pretty tasty to me. Maybe we should try the two different flavors first. Then we can get rid of them and keep this little group pure and white the way God intended,” he said, laughing and adjusting the crotch of his pants.
“Gross,” Margot snickered.
“You’re first then, buttercup,” he said, picking her up by her hair and dragging her toward the bushes.
“Been a long while since I had some Chinese.”
Emory jumped to his feet without even thinking. He rushed the man and delivered a low shoulder blow that took them both to the ground. He attacked like he was feral, and all thoughts left his head. He didn’t even see the knife coming. Cecil sank the four-inch stag-handled knife from his belt into Emory’s shoulder. Emory’s adrenaline was pumping so hard he didn’t even feel it. The assault didn’t stop until the butt of Cecil’s shotgun smashed into his face, sending him flat on his back. Hank stood up and spit on Emory.
“I’m gonna kill your ass, but I’m going to make you watch me rape your girl first,” he said with a sick smile as blood ran from his nose.
Hank got on his knees and started to rip off Margot’s pants. Emory lay there in a fog, unable to move. Was this how it ended? It seemed like a cruel joke. He found love for the first time in his short sixteen years of life, and now it was being stripped away.
Was his sister next? Would it be her girlfriend? What were they going to do to his little brother? As the blood started to pool under him from his shoulder, he tried to will himself to move. Nothing. He looked over at his family. Emily was screaming something, but he couldn’t make it out over the ringing in his ears. He turned his head in the mud and watched as the people he loved were about to be brutalized. He prayed for a miracle for the first time since his mother had passed. His sight was getting blurry, and it was hard to stay awake. Then came the darkness.
4 day earlier
The screeching blare of the alarm on Emory’s phone shook him out of a night of restless sleep. Almost a year had passed since his mother had died, yet she haunted his dreams more often than not. It was always the same dream. The low light of the hospice wing gave him a headache as his eyes strained to adjust. He had watched for three months as the strong woman who had raised him shrank into a shadow of her former self. He could see her resolution to stay strong for his younger brother Eugene, who was only seven years old at the time. The fierce will to beat the sickness that plagued her burnt strongly in her eyes. But on this day, her last day, he saw something else. The sorrow that engulfed the room had infected her, and she couldn’t hide it any longer.
His older sister Emily was hovering over her the way she always had. He watched as she adjusted the pillow and pulled the blanket up. At just nineteen years old, she had put it upon herself to be the surrogate mother for him and Eugene. She was perfect and proper in every way. She never lost control of her emotions, even when everyone around her was a cluster of emotions and tears. Her resolution was steadfast. Even though she didn’t express her grief verbally, Emory could still see the sadness that filled her eyes. She was a strong woman. Much stronger than he was. He didn’t have a filter on his feelings and wore his heart on his sleeve. As much as tried to be strong, he just couldn’t be. It was all too much for him to handle, and he broke down on a regular basis. At fifteen years old, he couldn’t process what was happening.
His mother’s last request was to speak to everyone separately in order to say goodbye. This filled Emory with anxiety. He knew he was being selfish, but he didn’t want to do this. He was last in line and the pressure was mounting. He felt like he was going to be sick, and his palms were sweating profusely. He couldn’t help but sit, tapping his foot as he waited until his father stepped out of the room. His face was stricken with grief.
His dad had been a mess for months now. Growing up, Emory had never seen as much as a tear roll down the man’s face; now he had seen a river. He knew how much his dad loved his mom. He had never even seen them fight. All of his friends’ parents were divorced, but his seemed to be as in love as the day they met. Emory’s heart broke for his father. He knew what he was going through was hard. He couldn’t imagine what it felt like to lose the love of your life. He looked up at his dad, whose eyes had tears welling.
“Your mother is ready to see you now, Emory,” he muttered, tears rolling down his cheeks.
“I don’t think I can do this, Dad,” Emory said with shame, his eyes cast down to the floor.
“I know this is hard, son. This is one of the hardest things you will ever have to do. Look me in my eyes when I say this: there is no shame in tears. A broken heart breeds one of two things: strength or anger. You need to choose strength, or the anger and the hate will eat you up inside. I have seen what hate and anger can do to a man, and that is no way to live. Go in there and tell her how much you love her.” With that, the tears rolled down both of their faces in a display of emotion that neither had the will or desire to contain.
Emory stood, and it took every ounce of control and strength in his body to keep his knees from buckling and collapsed into his father’s embrace. That was where the dream always ended. Maybe the strength for what came next was not something that his mind possessed. Maybe it was the shame and guilt for his weakness that plagued his subconscious. Whatever the reason, it hurt him.
Her death had affected every aspect of his life. A deep crack of depression now ran through his brain. He no longer cared about school and saw it as just something that he had to do now. He had alienated most of his friends. He was quiet and brooded most of the time that he was there. He constantly wore headphones to keep people from talking to him. He lashed out at his family on a regular basis. With his mother gone, everything just felt pointless and bleak.
With that thought, he rose out of his bed and checked his phone: 6:30. Might as well get moving. He stared around his room in a foggy frame of mind as he sat up. There were still reminders of his mother everywhere he looked. He thought his bedroom was that of half a man and half a boy. There were the typical teenage things, such as a game console that was still humming from when he had forgotten to turn it off last night. There were also things like Lego sets and action figures displayed on his shelf that were gifts from his mother. These served as gentle reminders every day and all around. No matter where he was in this house, he had a reminder of the worst day of his life.
Emory picked up the picture of his family from the Christmas before his mother had gotten sick. They all looked so happy. Love permeated from the photo. It was one of the last times that his family had looked whole. Emory looked so much different then. So happy. The darkness had not taken control of him yet. He sat the photo frame back down and stumbled his way into the bathroom.
Junior year of high school had been good to Emory. He had lost most of his baby fat and grown five inches. He had been a husky kid before and endured bulling because of it. He now stood at six foot two and was tall and lean. Now most people left him alone. He looked into his green eyes, reflecting back at him in the mirror. His long, jet-black hair was disheveled, and he had the starting of a respectable beard. As he shaved his face, he heard his sister waking his brother from bed.
He could hear her singing a song to Eugene, but he couldn’t make out the melody. Emily was only a few years older than Emory but was far more mature than him. She was polite and cordial at all times. She was a small petite girl who was always well-dressed and never even had as much as a hair out of place. She would wake up at the crack of dawn to meticulously get ready for the day before any of the rest of them thought about getting out of bed.
In Emory’s whole life, as far back as when they were small children, he couldn’t remember her so much as raising her voice at him (not even the times he deserved it). She had always spoken softly to him, explaining what he was doing wrong. If it weren’t for her, he was sure his life would be taking an even uglier turn than it was. He was truly lucky to have such an amazing sister. Emily was a godsend for putting her life on hold in order to take care of three gruff men. As many times as her father begged her to go to college, she had refused him. She told their father that there would always be time for that later, but at the moment, she was going to keep her promise to her mother and help out. Emory loved her for it.
After shaving, he went to his dresser and pulled out some clothes. He typically always wore the same thing; Emory was a tee shirt and jeans kind of guy. He put on the black tee shirt and tightened his belt around his waist. Sitting on the edge of the bed, he put on the beat-up old Chuck Taylors. They were one of the last things his mother had bought for him, and he wore them pretty much every day. He felt some kind of bond with the shoes. As time went on, they were falling apart and becoming less useful. It was exactly how he felt.
He walked over to his desk, shoved the books he needed for school into his bag, and slung it around his shoulder. He hadn’t finished his homework last night and was going to have to do it before school started. The pitter patter of rain falling on the roof rang in Emory’s ears and let out a sigh. They lived pretty close to the school, but walking in the rain was not something he was looking forward to. He didn’t have the motivation to get his driver’s license. Emily had offered to teach him to drive, but he knew that meant long, awkward trips in the car. She would bombard him with questions about how he felt. It was easier to walk.
After getting dressed, he made his way downstairs to the kitchen. There, he found breakfast and the others waiting for him. Just like his bedroom, their kitchen also held a plethora of old memories: pictures of his mother on fridge, knick-knacks, embroidered dish towels… For such a small space, it held a ton of memories. Eugene, Emily, and Emily’s girlfriend Becky all sat around the table, starting on a plate of eggs and bacon. Emily would make them breakfast every day and always made sure that they had enough to eat.
Becky was always around and all but official part of the family. For all his sister’s grace and properness, Becky was the polar opposite. While Emily always wore skirts and dressed in pinks and pastels, Becks seem much more comfortable in jeans and a band tee shirt. Her long black dreadlocks went down past her shoulders and complemented the whole look. She wore thick black glasses and looked overall pretty hip. Being one of the few black people that lived in this town, she had also learned to deal with people’s shit and didn’t take flack from anybody. She was crass and had made Emory blush a few times. She would call him out on being a dick to his sister, telling him that she was only trying to help. She was the yin to Emily’s yang. Emory had always enjoyed having Becks around.
“Hope you are hungry, pretty boy,” Becky laughed.
“Hungry enough to eat a whole pig,” Emory joked as he tussled his brother’s hair.
“How could you eat a whole pig?” Eugene asked quickly, a look of bewilderment on his face.
“Got to start with the hooves. Everyone knows that,” Becky mused, a sly smile creeping up her face.
“Stop it, both of you,” interjected Emily. “You don’t start with the hooves. The snout goes first.” This roused laughter out of the collective group. “You heard from Dad? He didn’t call last night.”
“No, but sometimes he passes out after a long drive. Half the time his phone is dead, and after the hustle of getting to his hotel, he forgets to charge it. I’m sure we will hear from him soon. Not like anything exciting happens here anyway.”
“It’s not like him to not call.”
“Meh. I’m sure he’s fine. Anyway, you want to give me a ride to school? I really don’t feel like hoofing it through the rain.”
“Hoofing it?” Eugene said as he dropped his bacon back to the plate.