[I wrote this short story several years ago and then revised and self-published it in 2007. Approximately 1300 words long.]
November in Northridge is like sitting on a wet turd; it rains all month turning the ground into mush. I am standing in the backyard in mud and fallen leaves and pouring rain, inspecting a shaft of light coming from a little hole in a tree. I try to stick my finger inside the hole but only manage to block the light.
It seems important to be the first to discover this hole and this light. I look around me to be sure there is no one spying. I am far enough back to be hidden from the house by bushes, overgrowth and a chicken hutch so that my dad cannot see me out a window. Dad does not like me to be foolish. He has punished me for less.
I bend down toward the light to peak inside the hole. Instead, my lips pass over the light first and there is a taste on my tongue I’ve never known. Something so delicious it makes me want to cry and shout and feast forever. I shiver with delight.
Mom does not understand at all. I do not know how long I have been standing there, tasting that light – it has not been long enough – or how long she has been watching me. She shouts and grabs my arm. I squeal like I am in pain and she gives me a funny look. She drags me into the house. Dad’s face is quiet as she tells him about me “kissing or licking a damn tree”. Then his expression melts into anger. He is going to hit me so I tell them about the light.
I lead them to the tree, my ears dripping rain, my nose dripping snot. My shoes are soaked and squishy. Mom grabbed an umbrella on the way out for her and Dad. She keeps cursing and almost slips in the mud. I do not really want to share this gift. This is my secret and they have no right to it. I expect the hole to be gone, some crazy daydream. The thought of never tasting that light again fills me with fear.
“What the hell were you doing back here?” Dad starts again. “You were supposed to be stacking wood.” He has already hit me once across the face on the way out. My cheek burns and it feels like it is bleeding. I know from experience it is not. He rarely draws blood, just bruises.
“I was taking a break,” I say. I wish the words did not come out like a whine. Dad hates that.
He shakes his head. “In the rain? Are you trying to make yourself sick, dummy?”
Mom bends over to inspect the hole. “Well, what the hell,” she mutters. Dad sighs and turns to look at the tree. Mom’s huge ass is almost in my face. The sudden thought of her own nasty hole almost makes me giggle in disgust.
“Strangest thing, Ed. There is light coming out of this tree.”
“Let me see,” he barks.
She moves aside with a huff, calling him a bastard, then says “You don’t trust your own wife. Then tell me, smarty, why light is shining out of this goddamn tree. I’m not blind you know.”
He inspects the hole for a long time. Too long. I am hungry for that light. I should not have brought them here. There might not be enough to go around.
“Oh, Jesus,” my dad exhales after poking at the hole. He shivers.
“Go get my axe, boy.”
The slap comes so quickly that at first I think it is another clap of thunder.
“My axe. Now.”
I am scared and I start crying and then I feel angrier than I have ever felt before. He is trying to take the light away from me. I should have just taken a beating. As I run toward the garage I hear mom begin her tired lecture on the evils of hitting children. He ignores her.
The axe hangs between brackets on the wall behind the wood stack in the garage. This is not my favorite place. Every year I stack the pile and every year he beats me for not stacking the wood correctly. “I thought you would have learned by now,” he always says. He then knocks over the pile of wood to demonstrate that it is not solidly stacked to his satisfaction. Then I fly across the garage and into a wall. It will happen again this year.
I can not decide which hurts more: the bruise on my cheek or the terrible longing for another taste of that light. If my parents taste it I will never get another turn. I lift the axe quickly. Promptness is another quality Dad’s blows are meant to instill in me. I start running again as soon as the axe is in my hand.
The trees are mostly bare but I have not yet finished raking up the leaves. I was supposed to have been done a few days ago. The lawn, pitted with muddy puddles and covered in places by leaves, is slick. Sprinting around the chicken coop I slip. I drop the axe and topple backward. My parents’ faces split in shock on my way down. The rain has slowed to a drizzle and the naked autumn trees reach up to heaven for forgiveness. “Dad will be mad,” I think as my back hits the axe blade. Clumsiness is just another item on his list of my faults. The blade is splitting my flesh and ribs. Caring about my dad’s reaction is lost in the pain.
Yellow leaves, slick like pus and mottled brown; turbid water flowing everywhere, sluicing away my blood; nausea, pain and grayness around my vision. My cheek is smashed firmly into the ground. My pelvis tries to raise me away from the pain and pressure of steel.
My parents reach me. They look down as if from very high up. Their lips move but I cannot make out what they are saying. It is so quiet. I cannot hear anything. My dad looks afraid.
All at once there is sound and I scream. Water gurgles off the chicken coop roof. A crow calls out angrily. Wind rushes through bare tree limbs. My heart hammers and my parents shout.
“Tommy, Tommy.” My mom kneels beside me. She reaches out to my side, maybe toward the axe handle, but then she reaches up to stroke my exposed cheek instead.
I hate them. I scream again, feeling my strength running out, and simply hate my mom and dad. I think I am dying.
“Don’t touch that axe,” Dad tells Mom. “We have to leave it in. Lie quiet, boy.” His tone is calm and important but I think he is panicking. “Don’t move.”
He is pushing my mom’s hand away and rolling me onto my side. Now I feel pain far worse than anything yet felt, like a building pressure suddenly released. My dad gasps.
It is not my blood that is released.
I can see the bright glow on the chicken coop. It is yellow, like the sun and not like the dead leaves I have not finished raking. The light from a big hole in me must flow in a torrent, vaporizing the rain and spreading like a search light through the trees.
The light’s fragrance is earthy, tangy, fresh, and nearly as delicious as the taste had been. I desperately want another taste. Forgetting his warning to my mom, Dad rips the axe out of me. He presses his lips into my back and I scream. His grasps me firmly despite my struggle. Another pair of lips…my mom’s.
I scream with the breath I have left “No! MY LIGHT!”
Light inside of me, light outside of me. The smell is overpowering. Mom and Dad will never understand the source but they will continue feasting.
And I will never have another taste.