11:3: “Judge”, by James Will Brady

11:3: “Judge”, by James Will Brady

BARB: I remember, growing up, all winter long we heard thunder.

We lived outside Syracuse – lake-effect country – and by December the snowbanks would tower over us like Himalayas. I remember all the houses popping on their lights at the same time and spitting their swaddled kiddies off the stoop and into the drifts. We’d wasted the daylight on school, so everything would be still and quiet and streetlight orange. The snow falling again, always falling, would catch in our mittens and tickle our lips and cling to our eyelashes like pixies, and the street, laminated white, would squeak beneath our footfalls like secrets in Munchkin Land.

And then, thunder.

Boom – and scrape, like an echo. In every street, in most driveways in our neighborhood. Boom, scrape – back and forth, up and down, coating our rampant imaginations in salty snowcone. Boom, boom, all night, all winter, when I was growing up.

Snowplows, that’s all. Explainable magic, like monsters as metaphors for adolescence. Not real thunder. Not in winter.

Except once. The last night we played the Game.

*

ROSS: There was snow everywhere, November to March, and one year us Carver Street kids burrowed all through it. There was that bully no one ever identified. And of course there was Eric, who got buried alive.

*

HOWIE: Other people are talking? Wow. Well, they’ll tell it better – I didn’t even see the thing. I heard it – everyone heard it. But I was the youngest, and my parents never let me stay out that late.

I was – we all were the ones making fun of Eric Beasley. That’s what parents call it – “making fun.” Abuse, it was, really. Pretty nasty abuse. Worse than nasty – but, at the time, we thought we were making fun. We made ourselves a lot of fun that way, with Butt-Butt.

You’re not interviewing him, are you? He’s not going to hear this?

Don’t tell him I used the nickname, okay? Okay?

Maybe we should stop right now.

*

URSULA: First, ask me about the Game. That’s the key, you know. Talk Eric and that…that night ’til you turn blue, but it won’t mean shit if you don’t understand the Game. The Yeti Challenge and snow idols and stuff, that was all aspects of the Game, but that’s not what the Game was.

*

HOWIE: Plows and snowblowers and us kids with shovels that weighed more than we did – remember those rusted-out things, always ended up with dogeared corners? We’d scoop it off the pavement into these monster piles. All the cars were in garages by 5:30, and then it was just these strata of gray and white and gray and – anyway, even Eric dug. And whined, at first, too – but that was Eric.

*

BARB: They were storybook lost cities, snowy Shangri-Las. Twin Valhallas, bridged to Earth by potholed macadam instead of a rainbow. We didn’t realize, but we were founding a vital microcosm, that winter. The entire upward groping of human civilization was contained in those tunnels. Children love hard, without knowing what love is.

*

URSULA: Kids have hive minds. It makes sense that we started by building hives.

And where you find hives, you’ll find queens. And you’d better know that I was the queen of the Odds. Guess who was queen of the Evens.

She named the teams. She said because the houses on her side were two-four-six and mine were one-three-five and so on, that’s what we should do – the Even Team, and the Odd Team. Well done, right? That’s how quickly girls grow up to be bitches.

I always thought she had such a perfect name.

Barb.

*

BARB: The Game began with a snowball fight, I remember. We said, ha, we have these snowpiles, and Ursula Merriman, I think, suggested using the piles as bunkers. I remember the snow was ideal for packing. I remember the mounds were like limestone – solid, but malleable. They wanted to be something. So we turned them into the Game.

*

ROSS: Listen, I played cricket in Sydney for two years, and even I don’t understand the Game. I once built a model rocket that reached forty thousand feet, and I don’t – I own a multi-million-dollar consulting firm and I do my own taxes, and even I don’t understand what the hell was going on with the Game.

I mean, I know the object.

Of course I’m lying about the taxes. Multi-million, folks. I’d be a fool.

*

HOWIE: I remember – I mean, like it was yesterday – one of the first was the Kidnap House Challenge. It was basically – basically, you abduct someone and start a family. Total kid idea. A team was like relatives – gotta marry someone outside your relatives, right? So you steal one from the other team. And – since snow always had to be involved – the way you grab a spouse was you shoved a handful down their snowpants.

“But, guys, someone’s gonna get pneumonia.”

I just remember him saying it – I’m not making fun – I bet anyone else you ask will remember stuff like that. Butt-Butt was a great kid. He could have grown up to be like Ralph Nader, or something – a real vigilant watchdog type. And guess what? Yancey Palencar did get pneumonia that winter. Eric was right. But, watchdogs – it seems like, sometimes, being right only makes their lives worse.

*

URSULA: I remember Kidnap House. I stole Ross and made him eat snowbroccoli and give me bootrubs.

*

ROSS: You had to undulate like a worm, you had to be able to squiggle around tight turns and climb packed ramps up to the next pile of snow and slip beneath the broken hockey sticks and bendy tent poles and old four-legged stools we’d stolen from our garages for supports. There were no overweight kids back then. We played outside every day.

So you’d inch your way through the other team’s tunnels by the light of the airvents until you found an opening. Like one of the rooms where we’d store snowballs and snowfood and emergency flashlights and dry mittens. Then you’d hide there and hope the first rival team member to crawl in was someone of the opposite sex. And I got Ursula.

Barb got Eric.

*

BARB: Eric was a chrysalis-boy: he just wasn’t coming out of his shell. I remember our Even Team, not acting much in the interest of evenness at all, I guess because they thought he was being kind of a spoilsport, started finding him and shoving snow down his pants and then leaving him unclaimed. Plenty of wicked laughter echoed through the Odd Team tunnels that night. After a while, his own teammates were ambushing him. When I heard that, I just thought, I have to do something.

*

URSULA: She dragged him to the Evens’ tunnels and she made him lick slush off her boot and she made him stick his bare fingers in the snow, and I heard she even force-fed him, you know, yellow Slurpee. I don’t know whose yellow it was.

But what she definitely did was she stuck him in a dead-end tunnel – this is the kind of tunnel where you can’t turn around, you know. This is an icy coffin, you know. She stuck him in a tunnel like that with nothing but a blue kiddie beachshovel, and she said, “Now, dig your way to fresh air.” Then she sealed up the tunnel.

Yeah. That became a tradition.

*

HOWIE: I know for a fact – for a fact – I was there, and that first time he was on the outskirts. He could see streetlight. Butt-Butt could’ve dug in just about any direction, and he would’ve got out – that was all he had to do. All he had to do was start digging. But, instead, he started screaming – which is the worst thing he could’ve done, because kids – especially groups of kids – see, laughter…laughter is a group response to fear.

Anyway – anyway, after that, the Game sort of found a focus.

*

URSULA: She’s the one who gave him the nickname “Butt-Butt Beasley.” Bet the funny-pages poet didn’t tell you that.

*

ROSS: Nobody knows who came up with it. I do remember I was the first to say, “Hey, Butt-Butt, your butt looks like a butt.” Sounds ridiculous now. Back then, though, everyone found it hilarious. Even Eric laughed. No kidding.

I do know why he got the name. I mean, you could always tell people were having fun outside, all you had to do was stick your head out your front door. If you heard Eric, you could be sure it would be a good night.

“But, guys, what if a car comes?”

“But, guys, the snow could collapse right on you.”

“But, guys, your nose could freeze right off.”

I swear, I once heard my Grammy Jude tell us grandkids, “But, guys, if you don’t cover your ears you’ll catch cold,” and I asked her where she’d heard that, and you know what she said? From Eric Beasley.

And then she roared like thunder.

I’m lying. That’s not funny.

*

BARB: I’m sure it was also a time of rhinovirus and peer pressure and the occasional touch of frostbite, and that chill that climbs so deep into your ears it freezes your brain. But what I remember clearly is how I used to prolong the Game by setting the analog clock on the oven an hour ahead. I could see it from the driveway, and I’d check and it would read almost eight and for a moment I’d be heartbroken, until it came to me that really we still had an hour. I’d tell everyone, and they’d be so happy. Eric would grin like a goblin. What an affaire de coeur.

*

ROSS: Oh, hell, like Fresh Fish Challenge. Someone would filch their dad’s fishing poles, and we’d send a shiny lure down the opposing team’s tunnels and reel it in. Nowadays I guess you’d have kid-safe lures with big plastic candycane hooks, but we used the real thing. No one got hurt. Our team would follow the “But, guys,” and that’s where we’d drop our line. And, eventually, every time, we’d reel in Eric.

*

URSULA: Butt-B – Eric, sorry. Omit that. You’re awful if you keep that in. I’ve stood up for him. But, Eric, he was, you have to understand, one of those types of kids. I guarantee you they’ll try and say we tugged the line and then forced him out. Yeah, that probably happened once or twice because of the worst of us, but, mostly, it was Eric. He was – what’s that word? The target who loves it?

I mean, explain this. Once the Game started, guess what he never did anymore. He never whined. He never told us to be careful after they started burying him. Go ahead, explain.

Masochist. That’s the word.

*

HOWIE: What else, what else – there was Snow Idol Challenge, of course. Butt-Butt always got conned into creating a distraction. He’d run out and twiddle his fingers at his ears and the Even Team would launch snowballs at his face – meanwhile we’d be sneaking through their tunnels. Eventually they’d take him and make him dig his way out – but, actually, what I thought was nastier – and I wish I’d said so – but what some people started to do was pack stuff into the snowballs. Mean stuff.

*

ROSS: I had nothing to do with those snowbombs. I didn’t even own a dog.

*

BARB: I made a mold, I remember, out of an egg carton I chopped up a certain way and lined with Saran, so when I filled it with water and stuck it in the freezer, out came a cute little crown. Each team chose a queen, and the rest took turns going into the opposing team’s tunnels and if you happened on someone who wasn’t crowned, you got one fingernail painted red. But if you found the queen, or king, you got a fingernail painted blue. Everyone was crawling around with a bottle of nail polish. Everyone came away that night with ten painted fingers, red and blue. But Eric’s, I remember, were all blue. He was so proud of that. He really knew those tunnels.

*

ROSS: There was the one with the stuffed deer heads. There was Ant Colony Challenge, which came from someone saying an ant was willing to sacrifice itself for the good of the colony. But the one we were playing on the last night was the simplest. The backbone of the Game. The Buried Alive Challenge.

How you played was you went and found Eric. And you buried him alive.

*

URSULA: The night you’re all horny for, the night my childhood got mangled beyond repair, the Game that night was Bad Boy/Girl. The idea, here, was that each team did a clothing mishmash, where one player, you know, gets your glove and my mitten and so-and-so’s right boot and someone else’s snowpants – and then you disguise them with a scarf or a skimask. A few people had goggles. Then this player would, you know, run out in the street, shouting if they were foolish and silent if they weren’t, and smash the other team’s tunnels and cause havok. First team to guess the other’s Bad Boy/Girl wins. Our Bad Boy that night was Eric. And theirs was…

Oh, I know this…

*

ROSS: What did he say his name was? He gave a fake name. And he came already disguised. And, of course, no one ever saw him again.

*

BARB: Gerald? Harold? Garret? Something like that. Not Biblical. We had an imagination magnet flanking our street, that winter – we got a video game pioneer out of that bunch, a special-effects artist, a writer for that science-fiction channel I think. I make a modest living with Modern Snowman. Every kid around who had ever wished to step into a wardrobe and emerge in another world, eventually she or he showed up to play the Game.

*

HOWIE: Whoever he was, it was Terrifying Yeti Challenge – essentially anonymous tag – we’d draw dimes from a hat and only one was, like, 1970 – so no one but the it person knew they were the it person. We’d sneak around scaring each other and snowballing each other and running screaming from our friends, until finally the Terrifying Yeti would go on a rampage and…

And drag one of us into his cave…

And eat…

*

ROSS: Honestly, everyone got buried alive. When it was my turn, I crawled inside with my little shovel and I kept my head under the nearest support and I waited. You know your teammates are coming. It was warm in there, actually, as long as you hadn’t been sweating too much, and I never do. I’m gifted. That’s how I stole my wife away from her rotten first husband. Here’s some advice: don’t play racquetball against a man who never breaks a sweat.

I’m lying, though. They never buried me. I wouldn’t have stood for it. Just like I wouldn’t have stood to be treated the way that kid treated Eric.

*

URSULA: I’m sure every one of those idiots will say there was something in the air. The worst happens and suddenly people cry retroactive intuition. They whine that it could’ve been prevented, if only.

Don’t print their lies. Don’t print their morals. Just let people know that kids are like this everywhere. That something like this could happen again.

*

HOWIE: If I say stop, we have to stop, okay?

This kid, he jumped out from a maze in one of the backyards and started growling swearwords at Eric – and I mean that. I mean growling.

*

BARB: He was colorful, let’s put it that way. Gary? Barry? I think we all learned some new dirty words that night. I remember someone saying that his parents needed to stop letting him watch HBO.

I admit, though, that at first I wasn’t paying much attention, because it was also about this time that I noticed the clouds.

*

ROSS: I was trying to figure, who is this kid? He had one of those full-face masks, the kind people use to rob convenience stores. And his voice was weird, rumbly weird – I mean raspy. Like he was disguising it.

*

URSULA: And their Bad Boy started calling Eric names. I’m talking, like, names. “Whorebrew.” “Jizznapkin.” Combinations only a kid can pull off. And Eric, he laughed. Because it was funny. Because that’s what he always did, and maybe that’s why people couldn’t lay off him, because whether you called him “Butt-Butt” or “twat-turd,” Eric always laughed along. And people like this kid kept tearing into him because he wasn’t doing it right. He wasn’t being the victim properly.

After that night, of course, none of us made fun of Eric ever again.

*

BARB: I will admit that I could almost sense things about to go wrong. He had this horrible laugh, a laugh like a fist, you could feel it pulsing across the street, grinding your stomach against your intestines. There is a mythology to kids like this. He was a volatile, venomous, frightening, good all-American bully. Subject of every honor-student’s vengeance reveries. A playground Grendel.

I had to protect Eric. So I captured him.

*

URSULA: And of course we couldn’t ID the new kid. The Evens were cheaters like that. So I was about to kick his ass myself, if it lasted any longer. I don’t look like it now, but I was a tomboy. I’m still very athletic – I even landed my husband by creaming him at racquetball. Not exactly Snow White.

But it ended quickly. Both times, it ended very quickly.

*

ROSS: What we did was we buried Eric alive. And his team never dug him out.

*

HOWIE: Next thing I knew, my dad was calling me in.

*

BARB: I remember watching clouds gather. I remember watching them converge instead of blow over. Heavy, trundling things, huge wheels of cotton soaked in oil. I remember telling this kid to leave, to go back to his street if he was going to play like that.

*

ROSS: It got toward curfew. I hadn’t seen Eric for at least an hour, though I don’t think I realized it then. Seen plenty of the other kid, though. He was having a good time. Some of the girls even decorated him with Christmas ornaments – they hang really well on cable-knit clothes. And just about all this kid’s clothes were cable-knit.

*

URSULA: They’d buried Eric again, you know. Let your record show that the Evens stuck him in an icy coffin and left him there.

*

HOWIE: When you’re playing you never notice, but when you’re in bed, you realize how often kids scream – and it’s the kind of scream that, if you can’t see the kid stuffing snow down the other kid’s pants and that’s all it is, you don’t know if someone out there is having a real blast, or if they’re getting hacked to pieces.

*

BARB: Eric came smashing through the snow. I remember because that was very unlike Eric. He seemed to be wrecking tunnels for no reason, kicking and stomping and clawing at paradise. Imagine him as the irradiated nuclear shellshock attacking a city. God toppling Babel. He was furious.

*

URSULA: Eric didn’t do a damn thing wrong. He dug himself out of his latest coffin, that’s it. All he did was maybe knock a little powder on the new kid’s wool jacket. But, apparently, that was a sin. That was war.

*

ROSS: I worked in Paris for a couple years, so I know what it’s like to be the uncool kid. It could be tough, even if you speak French well, which I do. Still, after a while, I’d hear tourists complain about the rudeness, I’d find myself sticking up for the French. Sticking up for Paris. It was my home.

For some reason, that kid thought he was the honorary Parisian. He wasted no time pulling ornaments off or whatever, clinking like a shaken Christmas tree, this kid just walks up behind Eric and blasts him in the side of the head.

*

URSULA: And Eric didn’t go down. Did you think he would? What no one remembers about Eric, because he always acted so meek, is that he was actually bigger than most of us. And not fat, either – he was a solid kid. He could roll huge snowman bases and then only slightly smaller torsos and he’d lift the one onto the other, no problem. Honestly, I think the Evens kept abusing him because it was like the thrill of baiting a bear.

*

BARB: They did fight. That is absolutely true. And it wasn’t like most childhood scuffles, where gloves and hats go flying and arms flail like broken birdwings, and the only blood you see is the blush in their cheeks. They fought as though they had something to lose. They fought like tiny soldiers.

*

ROSS: Eric and this bully get into it a little. But it’s kids in snow suits. It’s like watching sports mascots go at it. Eric’s laughing, even – so why should I be worried?

*

HOWIE: They watched Eric get his ass kicked. Our Eric – the Conscience Kid. The one who looked out for all of us.

*

URSULA: Eric never hit him back. He didn’t have to – this kid was a mosquito. In two more seconds I was about to grind the kid’s face into the asphalt, just for fun. And we’d all laugh. But the fates are cruel, you know – and I’m not being glib. Don’t cut me saying that. It’s important.

The new kid landed a solid lick across Eric’s nose, and Eric fell.

*

ROSS: And, suddenly, out of nowhere – POW.

Lightning.

*

HOWIE: I was lying in bed with the curtains open, and suddenly this – it was like daylight, like the sun did a driveby down Carver. Just, blinding. It threw the most horrible shadows across my wall.

*

BARB: I don’t know why none of the parents saw it. They all had to be awake – it wasn’t even eight yet. If my kids were playing outside and lightning struck the middle of my street, where my kids were, I’d notice.

*

ROSS: No thunder. Just an enormous flash, and then, for what seems like forever, nobody can see. You’d think I’d be safe inside my tunnel, but that blinding light bounces to me like I’m in a hall of mirrors.

That’s a lie. I wish I’d been in a tunnel. I was standing right there in the street.

I was the first to see the monster.

*

URSULA: It was a nightmare. It was the thing we imagine when we imagine things hiding under our bed. You know. The beasts that hunt our children. Hungry. And always, always, the teeth…

*

HOWIE: What they said it looked like was like – remember I said the Challenge that night? Yeah.

*

ROSS: What I will tell you is, to this day, I won’t watch monster movies. Why bother? Werewolves, cannibals, t-rexes – nothing onscreen could possibly outlive what I saw.
And it growled. Its growl was the thunder.

*

BARB: I’ve always heard that the closer you are to lightning, the closer the thunder follows the flash. But the lightning struck right beside us, and it seemed to take forever before we heard thunder.

*

URSULA: I can tell you don’t believe me. Ask most of the others, they’ll back me up. It was the new kid. He’d turned into this…this thing.

*

ROSS: And its eyes glowed.

*

HOWIE: There was a bright pale light coming from down the street, between the snow piles. None of the parents saw it. It wasn’t for them.

*

BARB: I’m not sure why we didn’t run. Why, after we saw lightning strike right near us, we didn’t all just take off like rabbits.

*

ROSS: I’m stuck. Everybody’s stuck. We’re standing there, frozen and screaming.

It didn’t seem to notice. You’d think it would be like a lion surrounded by lame baby gazelles. But it didn’t care about the rest of us.

*

URSULA: The thunder was its voice, rumbling straight from the sky. A cloudless sky. And the thunder said, “Eric.”

*

ROSS: I can’t. I can’t.

*

HOWIE: That thing grabbed Eric. Just reached over and wrapped one – wrapped one claw all the way around him.

*

ROSS: What did he do? What did he ever do?

*

URSULA: It stuck him into a tunnel. I don’t care if you don’t believe me, you know. It shoved him in a tunnel and then, without collapsing the tunnel, it slid in after him.

The tunnel was on the Evens’ side.

*

ROSS: Sort of squeezed down. I’m not kidding. I don’t…it just fit. I don’t want to talk about it. That’s the best I can do.

*

HOWIE: Eric – he was strong. From his father, from us – whatever that thing did to him in there, I never heard a scream.

*

BARB: The screaming died down. The glare faded and the thunder wambled on, and everyone was standing in the street, dumbfounded. Just zapped. If a careless driver had come sliding along then, we would’ve all been mown down.

*

ROSS: And then, after what seemed like hours – though it couldn’t have been…

Finally, Eric crawled out of the hole.

He crawled out of the hole and he turned and went home.

*

URSULA: We just watched him go. Then we turned and went home too.

*

HOWIE: After that, no one went out to play anymore. No one went in those tunnels. The Game was over.

*

ERIC:

Dear Sirs:

Thank you for the email and the kind sentiment, but I think I’ll stay out of this one.

*

BARB: I went outside the next night. I called names. Nobody answered.

We’d been miners and pioneers and daring heroes and villains in that storybook world of ours for a few glorious weeks. And suddenly, like Roanoke, it was just empty. Months of that went by, of emptiness, for us. For me. The snow melted, we fished our tools and toys from the mud – and that was it. That was the end of the winter.

*

URSULA: My mom said I was crazy and she grounded me for a month for telling awful lies. So, from then on, I made sure my lies were better.

*

ROSS: I turn the other cheek. I don’t let bullies get to me. People always say if you stand up to them they’ll go away, but that’s wrong. They want you to stand up to them. That’s exactly what they’re waiting for.

I mean, Eric? He’d never hurt a soul. Something was pushing us. Something…for weeks…years…

I’m not supposed to say this. I’m just saying. There was one of us, one of our group, who never showed up that night.

*

HOWIE: Eric’s dad got arrested – finally – for beating Eric almost to death with a liquor bottle. His mother killed herself a couple years before that – probably couldn’t handle her husband abusing her only kid.

Eric – the best of us – he took our abuse – you know why? He thought it was love.

And that last night, in a sick way, maybe it was.

*

ROSS: Ask his parents. Ask them if he was inside or outside. Ask his mother how much she liked to knit, and she was always knitting him clothes. Ask her.

But, whatever you do, don’t talk to Howard Merriman directly. Stay far away from him.

*

HOWIE: I saw him that night – I told you I was looking out the window. And when everyone else from Carver was stuck between the snowpiles, one person was running away as fast as heavy rubber boots could carry him.

It was the new kid. I’m sure of it. All the knit wool.

Because he wasn’t part of us – that’s why he wasn’t frozen. The Game didn’t want him. We let him go – we let him go because we only wanted Butt-Butt.

Because wasn’t he, really, our purest soul? And isn’t that what monsters want?

*

BARB: When I dug into one of the entrances, I found all the branches sealed up. And when I kept digging into where I knew another tunnel would be, everything was sealed up in that tunnel, too. All the supports were still there. The tunnel hadn’t caved in. Just the exits.

But plows had ground up against the piles by then, and I’m sure other kids had been in there. That wasn’t what people wanted to hear, though.

I wrote a Modern Snowman, years ago, in which Ricky uses his magic-wand arm to conjure a giant pet dragon. He wants it circling him all day, he says, to remind him that the world really is amazing. The Boss warns him that’s a bad idea. Ricky asks why. Then he gets syruped by a giant dragon dropping.

*

URSULA: I tried to be friends with her, after. Let the experience, I don’t know, grow us up. Bury the hatchet.

I should’ve buried it in her skull.

You know what she said? You know what that bitch tried to tell me?

*

BARB: Eric and I finally dated during college. It was as though we had to complete that first-love cycle. We used to hold each other on snowy nights, and we’d talk about the Game. How there were bound to be mistakes made – a group of children, learning the world through play? How unfairness is a byproduct. How utopian ambitions always succumb to a tragic flaw.

We used to talk about what people claimed they saw that night. The stories they whispered. Monsters. Thunderous voices, calling. Possession and things. We’d laugh about that for hours.

*

URSULA: Let the record show. Make sure you tell them I look like if Barb were here right now I’d kick her face in.

*

ROSS: I miss Barb, sometimes. She was vehement – only lightning, she said. All through high school, we’d lie there in the back of my Cav and we’d hold each other practically from the inside, and she’d swear up and down and up and down it never happened. Until I could almost believe it, too.

I’m lying, of course. It wasn’t that great.

Don’t tell my wife, okay?

*

URSULA: This happened years later. There were four kids, they must’ve been seniors because I didn’t recognize them. They were taunting Eric for being silent and for taking their taunting and probably for being in the wrong place, wrong time – you know, that’s how all the worst things happen. I remember they were acting like children, they were shoving him back and forth like jocks springing chestpasses. And Eric, who by that time had shaggy hair that fell over his eyes like a red-beaded curtain, he kept his hands in his pockets and he was letting himself be hurled around.

Having to live with the knowledge that these things are possible, that no matter how good you try to be they can happen to you. It was nothing new to Eric.

But he was looking up at the bigger boys. I swear he’d hardly grown an inch through all of puberty, even though he had a beard already. So he had to crane way back, and that made the hair fall away from his eyes. And as he spun to stare up at the next bully, his eye caught mine.

I bolted over to the nearest bully and slugged him and slugged him until his face gushed blood.

I’m still not sure which of us I saved.

*

BARB: People never remember what really happened. They remember what makes them look good, or what gives them the best story, or what they need to believe in order to carry on. They remember what they felt. I’m not calling anyone a liar. Mostly people tell the truth as they remember it. We’re all a little monstrous.

I never stopped loving snow. How it blankets the world in silence. How it bounces moonlight in beneath the blinds when you’re lying awake at night. I love the little caps it plops on fire hydrants and the jackets it slips around shrubbery. I love how it balances on shutters and guardrails and the backs of street signs and on powerlines like birds. I love how it transforms bare trees into monotone photographs, the dark gray bark with the gorgeous flash of white, reaching its arms out to a frozen color world. Reaching for…

I love how sometimes you can tell each unique flake apart even as they all gather together. I love what they create, so gathered, and I love what you, with enough wonderful heaven-sent snow, can bring to life.


James Will Brady has three first names, and is the third of a trio of clones. The first, Cummingsly named, tried to become a writer. But he tried too hard and came off desperate, and his few stories drizzled out of popular memory, like parenthetical asides. The second, lazily named, was a moron, and a dragon gobbled him up. James has learned from the first two: he’s going to become an accountant. But, first, a story or two. You know, for the fallen. He says:

My friends and I had some seriously good non-videogaming times with those piles of snow. Tunnels, forts, snowball wars—along with the scent of fir trees and the plap of choppy lake water against the underside of a dock, those memories form the nostalgia centers for my childhood. Still, sometimes I got freaked out in those tunnels. Even suffered a few small-scale collapses. And, yeah, they were the kinds of collapses you dig yourself out of by sitting up, but there was still that moment where the tunnel piles on top of you and you’re not sure how heavy it’ll be, and the air you gasp is hot and thick and useless, and your body clenches and you find there’s air enough to scream. That’s one inspiration for the story. Also, as people who like to read, we’re all likely too familiar with the concept of kids being jerkfaces. But, yeah, the thought, because I’m me, basically went like this: “Wow, snow is pretty and fun and good for the imagination. How can I twist that into a bad thing?” Which seems to be the central question of most short stories I write. You?


Illustration by Jason Safoutin is provided by Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Generic License.



One Response to “11:3: “Judge”, by James Will Brady”

Leave a Reply