Wound for Torment

A bead of sweat shook free from David’s eyebrow, splashing through his mustache. He savored the salty drip as it mixed with the blood in his mouth. His footsteps thudded through the concrete.

“Can you slow down a bit?”

Jessica was trailing behind by a few yards. Her matching white shorts and top shined under the street lights. David turned his head and grinned. He said “Can you run a bit faster?” as he slowed his pace. They ran side-by-side, focused on the moon hiding behind the old Oak ahead. A decrepit picnic table was barely visible, standing in shadow.

A rusted Cadillac sped past them radiating distorted beats of the Beastie Boys through its salvaged speakers. The windows were tinted with a thin layer of whitish-brown grime and the bumper was affixed with a faded “I’m A Vegetarian Because I Hate Plants” sticker. Exhaust tinged with burnt oil lingered in the air.

After the rear lights faded into the night ahead, David said “Why do they have to do that? It just ruins it, the music, it’s like they want everyone to think they’re cool by shoving it out of their car.”

“Maybe he’s deaf” Jessica said between breaths.

“If he was deaf, he wouldn’t listen to music.”

“What about Beethoven or Mozart or one of those guys?”

“Just a fluke.”

The sidewalk ran into the ground just before the table, and they slowed down to a walk. Jessica’s lungs and legs burst into acid; rarely used muscles desperate for life. She limped towards the side of the table away from the road.

“Mozart was a good fluke, maybe he’ll be the next Mozart.” He just shook his head.

They sat down at the picnic table. There was a three-foot tall monument off to the side, which held a plaque obscured by technicolor spray-paint. Etched in faux bronze, it said ‘In Loving Memory of Harold L. Vesota. June 23rd, 1987.’

David sat hunched over the table, as he pulled on each of his fingers, snapping them right to left. Jessica sat her hands along her bench, picking away at the splinters, and said “I don’t think I’m going to pass Bio. The professor just doesn’t care. I mean, I ask him questions, and he says to read the book. I don’t have any time.”

David took the thumbtack out of his shorts pocket and started poking it in and out of the table. “Yeah… it sucks with Bradley. I had it with Thomas, it was a cake walk. We only had two tests, and they were open book and open note.”

Jessica sighed and said “Lucky.”

A soft gust of wind rustled the weeds awake, whispering through the field. Across the road, the final street light buzzed and flickered. The apartment complex was illuminated down the road, two burning miles away. There were eight two-story buildings in Ravenwood Hills. Each of the apartments had a direct entrance, with no communal hallways to mess around with. Everything looked fake from this distance, a series of doll houses on an empty stage.

She asked “Do you know what you’re going to do after this semester?”

“No clue. My internship ends, and I haven’t done any interviews or anything.”

“You should.”

He turned his gaze back towards the road. “I know.”

They watched a Pontiac Sunbird swerve towards the apartments from a side-street, going well over the posted speed limit.

David stopped poking the thumbtack and sat up straight. He looked at her, and waited for eye contact.

“I have another idea.”


“A race.”

David looked around, squinting in the dark. The scattered light illuminated a rough tennis-ball-sized rock next to the table. He picked it up. “If I get too far ahead, you can throw this at me.” He held up the rock beside his head. “I think this could work.”

She noticed he wasn’t smiling any more. She brought her hands up above the table. “But…”

“Yeah, I know. I’ll be fine,” he said, as he held the rock in front of her.

She turned her head towards the Oak, staring through the branches for a few seconds, and closed her eyes as she took the rock with her trembling left hand. It clinked against her class ring.

“Or, we could just stay here and…” he said, leaving the weeds to complete his words.

She looked behind her at the field. She saw the flicker of wings in the sky, flapping softly. Suddenly, they turned rigid, and swooped down into the field. She glimpsed them flapping again, rising slowly towards the trees. She barely heard the mouse’s dying squeak in the talons of the owl.

“No, a race might be…” she trailed off for a few moments, “fun.”

The wind picked up, and the final street light began swaying. Shadows swam around them.

David stood up, and Jessica followed his lead. “Let’s go” he said.

He started running backwards, awkwardly, as she started a slow jog.

“What do you think you’re doing?” she asked.

“Oh, just having some fun.” His teeth grin gleamed at her, a Cheshire Cat of the night.

He suddenly started running forwards, behind Jessica, and around her other side. “Jeez, I’m running circles around you now!”

He was twenty yards ahead, and laughed. She hurled the rock overhand, and watched it bean his right calf. He stumbled forward, losing any semblance of balance, and quickly skidded to a stop. Small, sharp rocks stabbed his knees and forearms, eager accomplices to the mutilation.

Jessica ran faster, her legs shuddering with each impact against the concrete. “David? David?”

She knelt down to pull him on his back as he coughed. David punched her below her left breast. Her lungs expunged their air, and began to tingle all over. She fell down to her knees, trying to remember how to breathe again, but she couldn’t. She opened her mouth, blinking, and held her hands over her stomach. They both rose up in a hunched stand, right in each other’s face, and she gasped, able to breathe again.

She lunged towards him. Left and right punches connected with his jaw, and she started pulling his hair. He reached his hands up around her wrists, crushing muscle, bone, and veins together. “Ow, let go, dammit! Not the wrists!”

He let go, and she immediately slapped him with her left hand, her class ring diving into his right temple. He staggered backwards, sticky drool dripping down his chin.

They stood a few feet apart. David wiped his chin with two fingers, staring at the blood, and held his right temple. Jessica bounced back-and-forth in place, a harsh mimicry of late-night kung fu movies starring nameless punching bags of Asian descent.

The sticky concoction of saliva, blood, and sweat streamed down David’s throat, creating gurgles whenever he spoke. “So far, so good?”

Jessica nodded, still bouncing. She took two huge steps forward, and pushed on David’s shoulders, toppling him back onto the sidewalk again. He groaned as she put her weight down on his upper body. She started twisting one ear and thwacked the other repeatedly. “Come on now, Jess, you’re not going to go Mike Tyson on me and bite off my ear, are you?”

David’s hands were free, though, and he pushed off his right side. Jessica tumbled along with him, and fell under David’s weight. He began punching her sides and shoulders, as she pounded his eyebrows and forehead. She grabbed his hands, struggling in an odd arm wrestling position.

The Cadillac came up to a stop along the sidewalk, muted by their scuffle. “Got this dance that’s more than real drink Brass Monkey here’s how you feel put your left leg down your right leg up…”

A tall man with an oriental dragon tattoo on his left forearm stepped out of the driver’s seat. “Hey, hey, what the hell are you doing, man?”

Jessica and David stopped their struggle, and looked up at the silhouette standing ten-feet away. Jessica shook her fist in the air “Get the hell away from us, you pervert!”

Cadillac man’s face snapped crimson. “Jesus Christ!” he said, “Just trying to help, find a god dang room.” He slammed his car-door shut, and accelerated away, leaving a familiar cloud behind.

David coughed, and smiled. “Nice thinking.”

She punched his forehead, shifting his weight so she could get free.

He fell back, and sat Indian-style in the middle of the sidewalk. “Arrêt, stop.”

Jessica nodded. She walked towards David, and offered her hand as support. He took it, and their pulses joined, beating deeply.

“You’re bleeding.”

“I know.” He grabbed two conjoined pieces of paper towel out of his shorts pocket, and wiped off his chin, arms, and legs. He crumpled it into a ball in his right hand.

“Your head is still bleeding a bit. Have any band-aids with you this time?”

David nodded, and produced a handful out of his other pocket. Jessica grabbed one, dropped the peelings onto the sidewalk, and placed it on his temple. He shoved the rest back in his pocket.

“There, you might want to put some stuff on it when you get home, it didn’t look very good.”

They began walking back. David grinned and said “Hey, want to catch?” as he pretended to throw his towel towards Jessica.

“I don’t need your stinking blood.” She stuck her tongue out for a moment.

The wind had died down. Frogs and crickets launched their calls into the depths of the night to an instant response.

“My blood don’t stink” he said, laughing at himself.

Up ahead at the apartments, nothing was going on. Nobody was rollerblading down the sidewalk narrowly missing ignorant pedestrians, no cars were waiting in the parking lot with obnoxious chatter coming out of their windows, and no police were breaking up parties rife with underage drinking. They walked down the sidewalk, gazing towards what might have been. Their scuffling footsteps drowned out nature.

“I have that eight am Bio class tomorrow, dammit.”

“Well, have fun with that.” He let out a sigh. “I wish I didn’t have to go to accounting either.”

“How’s that?”

“Easy. We’re going over how to audit different businesses, like making sure that things are Sarbanes-Oxley compliant. Just following lists of business practices, like we’ve been doing for ages.”


David cleared his throat. “Just don’t let Frank see you naked in full-light for a week or so… I know it wasn’t the idea of this, but the bruises should fade away.”

A sitcom laugh-track murmured from an apartment window.

“I know how to cover up” she said, smiling. She slid her class ring off, exposing an inner ring of scars and stitches. “I was mad at my parents one day.”

David looked closer. “Completely detached?” Jessica nodded. He grunted.

They came to a stop at apartment 4-D, and she slid her ring back on. “See ya.”

“Yeah, see you later.”

Jessica unlocked her door as David walked away. He did not turn around.

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