Rex’s breath vibrated with fear and anger. His ankle was chained to a spike in the center of a clearing in the middle of the woods. Feeling the light breeze flow across his naked skin he knew who had done this. It wasn’t those who carried him out and locked the shackle. It was someone else and there was no doubt in his mind who it was. She was pushing him to the point where he would kill, and as his blood boiled and his heart beat raced, Rex knew that she was about to get what she wanted.
Rex looked up when he heard the growls. He peered ahead toward the trees and into the darkness. He didn’t need to have acute hearing to predict their approach. They were coming directly at him and would take their time as they did.
Silver eyes were the first thing to catch the flickering campfire light. There was no mistaking them. They glistened like cut diamonds. And as they narrowed about to attack, the muscles on Rex’s bare chest rippled and tensed in preparation.
Like a ball of fur and teeth the first one leaped from the darkness at him. It was all so quick. Rex could do nothing but swing at the beast and miss. Its claws sunk into the flesh below his clavicle knocking him back. Rex stumbled trying to get his footing before the chain yanked him sending him hurling to the ground.
The wolf snapped at him trying to get at his face. He slipped his forearm against its neck keeping it away. And as the beast’s claws tore down his naked flesh, Rex pulled back his fist and swung it as hard as he could against the wolf’s head.
The sound of cracking bones rang out. It wasn’t Rex’s fist that broke, it was the animal’s skull. And like dead weight, the wolf slumped onto him allowing Rex to fling it aside and scramble to his feet.
The next three to leave the shadows weren’t quite as quick. Emerging one by one they lowered their head jetting their ears back and fiercely showing Rex their teeth. They separated each planning their path of attack. And with Rex swinging his head from wolf to wolf, they each lowered their head patiently stalking him.
‘Turn, son. You must turn,’ Rex heard reverberating in his mind.
Rex gripped his head and gritted his teeth in pain. “Get out of my head!” he demanded.
‘Turn or die, son.’
Rex lowered his hands when he felt the pain stop. This was all new to him. His mother’s invasions still hurt. But he knew that he didn’t have the time to think about that now. They were going to attack him whether he was ready for them or not. And with the unholy rumbling of their growls inching closer, Rex could barely do anything but clear his mind and wait.
The first attacked from the right. Rex turned swinging his fist like a hammer. The wolf fell. But the flesh being ripped from his left leg was undeniable. Rex looked down at the mess of fur tearing at him. He screamed. And knowing that any punch would sink the wolf’s teeth down his leg like a sharp blade, he hesitated before swatting.
Rex hauled back his fist, and about to smash the wolf’s skull like he had the first one, the third wolf flew through the air from directly ahead of him and grabbed his wrist.
Swinging from Rex’s wrist like a wolf bracelet, all of the muscles in his young chest contracted. In that moment he felt helpless. They were winning and he knew it.
Rex knew what they wanted. They wanted him to become someone else. They wanted him to cast away any chance he had a normal life and be one of them. Rex wasn’t going to do that. He was going to fight every moment and to his last breath remain who he was. Rex might have been brutal, some might even describe him as a killer. But he would never want to be one of them.
When the third wolf gripped into his right thigh, Rex felt himself slowly slip away. He was losing himself. He was letting go of his vision of happiness. Being pulled down like through a vortex from hell, the darkness took over him. Everything around him morphed into an amalgamation of sight, sound and smells. And barely still human, Rex had a flash of who he wanted to be. That was enough. That was his lifeline.
Draining an untapped reservoir that he never knew existed, Rex lifted his left arm and hit the hanging wolf in the neck. It dropped like a stone struggling for breath. Rex wasn’t done yet, though. Swinging his fists like wrecking balls Rex pounded on the wolves gripping into him. As the wolves ripped down his bleeding flesh, it hurt. But seeing their silver eyes glaze over, Rex knew that it hurt them more.
Pounding and pounding on the punch drunk beasts, they eventually fell. Rex was at the advantage now. One just laid there while another leapt up and staggered out of his reach. It was the one lying on the ground that Rex picked up and threw at it. It hit sending both of them tumbling into the shadows.
Next was the smaller wolf staggering to its feet. It wasn’t as lucky as the other two. Rex reached out and grabbing it by the loose skin on the top of its neck and shook it like a ragdoll. It dangled and cried like a puppy. And when Rex’s fingers slipped catching instead a fistful of fur, it slid 6 feet before staggering into the shadows of the trees.
Gathering himself Rex understood that there was only one wolf left. It was the first wolf whose skull he had heard crack under the weight of his fist. It was behind him. Slowly turning as his wounds filled with blood, he found where it had laid. It wasn’t the wolf anymore, though. It was a man. He lay beneath Rex lifeless and naked. Rex knew who this was. Rex had liked him when he was alive. Rex hadn’t wanted any of this. But if any of them thought that they could rule him, they were wrong. And if they tried, this was what every single one of them would get.
The remnants of fury bubbled up from his toes to his chest while he fought to free himself. Rex’s mind swum with emotion. He couldn’t contain it all. And when they all overwhelmed him and he could take no more, he showed the new moon his powerful naked chest and roared his anger at the world.
His anger came out sounding like a howl. Rex knew that it would. He knew what he was even as he fought it. But none of us are slaves to destiny, and Rex least of all.
He knew that he had won this night and the defeated would have to release him. But falling onto his knees as the blood flowed down his flesh, he wondered what else his mother would do to get what she wanted.
Salome’s young body jiggled as the SUV hit the crack in the road. It was a feeling she was self-conscious about. She wasn’t always built the way she was now. She was a late bloomer meaning that she didn’t gain her voluptuous hips and breasts until less than a year ago. Before then she was a 17-year-old who was built like a boy. But almost overnight her body filled out in ways that she hadn’t imagined, and her 18-year-old curves jiggled at the slightest movement.
Salome was surprised to learn how much her new body would affect her life. For three years she has been going out with Cristian. During most of that time his devout Christian beliefs hovered over their relationship. But as soon as Salome began filling out her dresses like a woman, her boyfriend’s religious devotion to chastity met a sudden demise.
Cristian was the son of their small town mayor and their sheriff. So for Weaver, South Carolina, population 2905, that alone would make him quite the catch. But on top of that, he was good looking. The caramel complexion that came with his mixed lineage made him look like fine candy. And the muscles that hid beneath the surface of his clothes made every girl with a libido want to explore more.
Until recently Salome wasn’t one of those girls. In fact, it took her by surprise when his innocent kisses turned into more. Taking liberty with Salome’s new body parts his excitement often revealed itself when it pressed against her leg. It was then that she learned that he was a normal boy after all and not just the blind disciple of her stepfather, Pastor John. Cristian had urges, and Salome’s new body ignited them all.
Salome wasn’t completely opposed to Cristian’s new found interests. As his large tan hand gripped her pale breast, the flesh between her legs tingled. His touch brought about a powerful sensation in her that often stripped her of her will. But even as she fought to stay in control, she never forget her life’s goal.
Weaver, South Carolina was a closed community. It wasn’t like they were behind gates, but still, no one entered or left. All of the kids who were seniors when she was a freshman still lived in the town. They married too young and took whatever jobs they could find. This wasn’t a factory town. This was barely a farming town. But the way that Weaver survived, was that the money that came in never left. Like the people, the economy circled amongst themselves. And everyone accepted this along with the sacrifices they made to make it work.
Although everyone in the town owned a TV, almost none of them had gaming systems. Cell phones were rare in Weaver. And all of the cool gadgets that the kids on TV had, never made it to their local grocery store. This was an agreed-upon sacrifice that everyone unwittingly made. And in exchange for it, what they got was the type of town that hadn’t existed in 50 years. They had a sense of community where everyone knew each other’s name, and the church was the epicenter of the town.
Everything in Salome told her that she needed to get out. Ever since her father had died and her mother had married Pastor John, her stepfather exerted a tighter and tighter grip over her life. He also had a strangling grip across the town, but living with him was what left his fingerprints deeply embedded into her soft flesh. And knowing that there could be more to her life than the limited world her stepfather allowed her, she went along with everything he said to keep the peace while relentlessly uncovering every possible path out.
Salome watched as the trees whipped by the car window as it hummed along their country road. This was her daily commute to school. It was often a peaceful trip with Pastor John in the driver’s seat and her brother Andrew in the back. Pastor John knew not to say anything to her unless risk it falling onto deaf ears. And Andrew had turned into a boy who said less and less the more that his teenage life encroached upon him.
Now 14 years old, Andrew was becoming more of a portrait of a boy longingly peering out of a window than the little brother she had known. It made Salome wondered if there was something wrong. But continuously drowning in her own feelings of suffocation and desire to escape, she didn’t have the strength to also take on her little brother’s problems.
The silver SUV turned right and the woods gave way to their modest two-story school. She had only one year left here and she couldn’t wait for it to be through. As the stepdaughter of Pastor John, she hadn’t had a hard life, but she did feel pressure.
Everyone there, the students, the teachers, they all attended Pastor John’s sermons. They ate it up as if it were coming from Jesus himself. Salome would have reveled in everyone’s naïveté if there was any in town who agreed with her. But without a fellow rebel, she instead gritted her teeth and bore it biding her time until the metaphorical bubble that surrounded them cracked and she could be free.
Pastor John guided the SUV into one of the parking spots in front of the school. Salome took note of this. Every other morning he had dropped them off immediately in front of the stairs that led to the school’s main doors. The only time he parked the car was when he was planning on going in, and usually it was when he was hosting a Christian youth seminar mandated by the mayor. Those seminars were often announced weeks in advance so Salome knew that that wasn’t it. It had to be something else. And it didn’t take long for her to find out what.
“Bye dad,” Andrew said popping the door open and slipping out.
“Can you wait for second,” Pastor John said resting his hand lightly on Salome’s knee. “Have a good day, Andrew,” Pastor John replied to the boy already closing the door behind him.
Salome kept her eyes locked on Pastor John’s hand. She wasn’t sure if he meant anything sexual by it, but her body reacted as if he did. Her skin crawled in the way it did whenever she was confronted by an anxious moment. Her breath quivered imperceptibly as she waited knowing that nothing that came out of his mouth was ever good. Everything he said always managed to hurt her. So feeling herself loosened from her body, she subtly pulled away like a mouse cornered by a cat.
“Sally, I thought it was time that I started speaking to you as an adult.”
Like everyone else, he called her Sally. Salome wasn’t sure why or how it had begun, but like everything else in her life she just accepted it.
“You know how this town is. You’ve grown up here your whole life. I’ve lived here longer than that. I’ve seen kids born, I’ve watch them grow up in my church, I’ve married them, and I’ve seen them have their own kids to start the wonderful cycle all over again. That’s the way it is here. Nothing here changes.”
Pastor John gathered his thoughts allowing his eyes to scan the kids who filtered out of cars towards the schools wooden double doors. Pastor John often took these moments as he spoke. In the middle of a sermon he would often drift off leaving the parishioners hanging on his words only to return with a shotgun aimed at the heart of the matter.
“That boyfriend of yours, Cristian, I like him. He comes from good people. Catherine is a good mayor. Tom is a good sheriff. And with parents like that, there is no helping that Cristian will follow his mother and one day become a great mayor himself. In a town like this, that boy’s a catch. And when a girl like you gets a boy like that, you do whatever he asks you to do to keep him. Do you understand me, Sally?”
Salome stared at Pastor John taking in what he had said. The idea washed over her like a wave jostling her world before returning her to steady ground.
“Yes, Pastor John,” Salome said finally absorbing the worst of it.
“Good,” he said with his creepy Pastor John smile. “Good,” he repeated returning his attention back to the car. “Then you have a good day, okay?”
“Okay, Pastor John,” Salome said finally finding her escape.
Salome popped open the door and quickly slid out throwing her backpack over her shoulder and pulling her binder against your chest. She didn’t want to look back and accidentally lock eyes with the pastor again. She was unsure of what that look would result in. And already feeling the earth move beneath her, she kept her vision focused on the double doors ahead. But when she heard the SUV reverse and then pull off, she gave in to her impulse and turned.
The vehicle pulled away like any other day. It wasn’t any other day, though. It was the day that Pastor John crossed the line. He crossed it with such ease and comfort that she was sure that it wouldn’t be the last time.
With Pastor John far out of sight, Salome removed the binder from her chest. Reaching back into a side pocket of her bag, she withdrew a pen. Opening her binder to a fresh sheet of loose-leaf she wrote down exactly what Pastor John had said. She wrote: when a girl like you gets a boy like that, you do whatever he asks you to do to keep him. She paused for a moment to allow the memory to leave her mind and live on the sheet of paper. And when she again felt free, she continued on.
Salome ascended the stairs to the school’s front doors. The mix of students flooded past her endlessly. Stepping through the open door entering the hallway, she immediately made eye contact with her best friend.
Mimi saw Salome and immediately smiled. Mimi had been looking for her all morning. She knew what was on Salome’s mind, and she couldn’t wait to get her decision. Approaching Salome with a smile, she rested her tan colored hand on Salome’s neck as she gazed into her friend’s eyes.
“You’re gonna do it, aren’t you?” Mimi asked.
“I haven’t decided.”
Mimi’s mouth dropped open in exaggerated surprise as she was known to do. Salome’s friend was full of life. She found excitement in everything. And one of her latest fascinations was sex.
“How could you possibly resist? You have a boyfriend, he’s superhot, and you’ve been dating him forever. Don’t you wanna know what it looks like?”
It was Salome’s turn to fake surprise. “Mimi!”
“Please. Don’t tell me that you don’t wanna know. Every red blooded girl would wanna know. FYI Salome, that boy is hot. Push that Bible thumping aside, and your guy is a strapping red-blooded man. And you have to think it’s big,” Mimi said with smile.
Salome continued walking with her mouth hanging open. Mimi followed her. Salome knew that her friend was right. Cristian was gorgeous. The way his bulging tanned chest rippled when he took off his shirt made her newly minted woman’s body sweat.
And it was almost impossible to miss the bulge that Cristian held in his pants. He didn’t even have to be hard. It was like he was hiding a baseball in his underwear. And when he did become hard during their make out sessions, Salome could barely believe that all of what she was feeling was him.
“I’m just saying, if you’re not gonna sleep with him, someone else is,” Mimi confirmed.
Salome looked at her friend suspiciously.
“Not me,” Mimi reassured lifting both of her hands up in the air in denial. “Someone.”
Mimi looked over the student body as they whipped by her. Standing at the locker next to Salome’s was Belle. Her thin fingers moved quickly retrieving and replacing books. She reminded Mimi of an ostrich with her long thin neck and birdlike frame. But the thing that drew everyone’s attention to Belle, making her extremely self-conscious, was the fact that her eyes were two different colors. Her left eye was blue and her right eye was hazel. And staring at those attention grabbing eyes, it was clear to see that they were always focused on Cristian.
“Someone like Belle,” Mimi concluded.
Salome looked at Belle sizing her up. Belle certainly was pretty. And both she and Cristian shared a devotion to Pastor John that exceeded anything Salome would have. Maybe Belle was someone she had to fear, she decided. Or maybe Belle was the person that Cristian was meant to be with because Salome’s time in this town was short.
“Don’t get me wrong, that boy loves you. And he would never cheat on you. But I’m just saying that I would sleep with him if I were you.”
“And if I were you, I would sleep with everyone,” Salome retorted with a smile.
Mimi looked at Salome with a bested smile on her face. “Low blow.”
Mimi looked behind Salome to find Cristian approaching them. Like always, she took a subtle look down at his pants. She continued to be amazed at him. “I’m just saying that you should sleep with him. You can’t hold onto your v-card forever.”
Mimi left Salome with her eyes still locked on Cristian. “Hey Cristian.”
“Hey Mimi,” Cristian said with a practiced smile.
Once past Cristian, Mimi turned around and mouthed to her friend, ‘I would so do him,’ bringing a smile to Salome’s face.
“Hey Sally,” Cristian said with a genuine smile.
With a newly inspired blush in her cheeks, she continued to her locker. She didn’t mean to be playing coy. She simply didn’t know what to say at this point. She had already had two conversations about having sex with him both urging her forward, and she was sure that this would be a third. It was beginning to feel like a lot of pressure. And something deep inside of her was telling her to hold back.
“Hey Cristian,” Belle said with her mixed colored eyes twinkling.
“Hey Belle,” Cristian replied.
Belle took the opportunity to make it clear what she wanted. Getting as close to him as she could, she touched him lightly on the forearm. “Did you understand number seven in our math homework?”
“Yeah. It’s a quadratic equation,” Cristian explained.
“Wow. You’re so smart. Do you think you can explain it to me a little later, like during lunch?” She asked brazenly.
Cristian took a quick look at Salome judging her reaction. But like always Salome was unmoved. “Yeah, I can show it to you.”
Belle smiled thinking about what else she would like to see. “Thanks Cristian.” Belle closed her locker and began walking away before turning to Salome. “Hey Sally.”
“Hey.” Salome understood Belle’s message. Salome had to make a decision. Either this was going to be her life and she had to let herself be with Cristian, or she had to let him go. What she was doing now wasn’t good for anyone.
“So, did you think any more about what we discussed?” Cristian asked with a blush.
“Umm, yeah. But I have to get to class.” Salome threw her backpack over her shoulder, closed her locker and quickly backed off. “We’ll talk about it. I promise.”
Salome could feel Cristian’s eyes on her back as she walked away. She could feel him exploring her. She imagined what it would feel like for his hands to caress her.
She had to admit that Cristian would be the perfect guy for her if it wasn’t for this town and the fact that Pastor John liked him so much. How different would their relationship be if their parents weren’t who they were and if she didn’t always feel her stepfather’s controlling hands around her neck? Salome headed to biology class thinking about what could have been.
Salome walked down the coral colored hallway. The aged plastic covering the florescent lights shown a yellow tinge on everything. It made everything look older than it was. The town of a little was over 150 years old. It was a farming town. The high school was considered very modern when it was built 50 years ago. But now the red brick building looked out of place in a town consisting mainly of Victorian homes.
Salome continued down the hall watching the orange oval design on the Formica floor pass under her feet. Each oval was situated between classroom doors. She was headed to biology. But across from that was the physics lab and further still was the Bible studies room. That was something that Pastor John had initiated. The town was only too happy to accommodate.
After biology, Salome next had English class and then geography. Geography was her only Monday class that had both Mimi and Cristian in it. Today, it seemed, Belle was being particularly annoying. Although the class was on how geographic structures shaped culture, Belle insisted on asking questions about the cult across the river.
Salome was sure to point out that no one knew for sure whether they were a cult. The only thing that anyone knew was that they kept to themselves and their children never attended Salome’s school. It was Pastor John who first labeled them a cult. And as a policy, Salome believed that anything Pastor John said meant the opposite was true. So when Mr. Christofilos quoted Pastor John’s sermon on cultish behavior, Salome was sure to bring the conversation to an end. This certainly wouldn’t be the first time Salome had done it. And whenever she did, Belle always looked at Salome like she was the biggest challenge to the town’s natural order, which she was.
Salome had sixth period lunch. She knew that Cristian had had lunch with Belle during fifth. She thought about them a lot as she ate her tuna sandwich on one of the concrete outdoor lunch benches with Mimi. Salome wondered what exactly Belle had said to him and if she should do anything about it. Mimi seemed to be respecting Salome’s introspection by staying unusually quiet, but Salome found out the real reason once her best friend spoke.
“Don’t look now, but there is a boy across the street who has been staring at us since we sat down,” Mimi said never taking her eyes off of him.
“Where?” Salome said turning around.
“I said don’t look,” Mimi insisted a little too late.
Staring across the grassy field and the street, was a boy. It wasn’t anyone Salome had ever seen before. He looked to be a little over 6 feet, built, and he was clad in a rugged leather jacket, jeans and boots. His shaggy dark hair gave him a wild look. And even from where she sat she could see the intensity in his features. He was staring at them. And from where she sat, he seemed dangerous.
“Do you think he’s from the cult?” Mimi asked.
“Well, if that’s what cult boys are like, sign me up.”
“You’re already in a cult,” Salome bantered. “We are all just pawns in the Pastor John cult.”
Salome turned to see Mimi’s reaction when she spotted something over her friend’s shoulder. Her quiet brother Andrew and two of his baseball playing friends were pushing around a smaller kid and others were gathering around to watch. “Oh Andrew,” Salome said disappointed.
Salome left Mimi drawing her attention with her. Scurrying across the lunch area, Salome injected herself into the scuffle.
“Hey, stop that. Stop that!” She said putting herself between the smaller boy and her brother.
Andrew and his two friends backed off sporting guiltless smiles.
“What are you doing?”
Andrew looked blankly at Salome in reply.
“You, you and you, don’t go anywhere. Do you hear me?” Salome looked at each of them in the eye freezing them in their spot. “Come here,” she said dragging her brother by the arm.
“Is that what you’re doing now, picking on little kids?”
“That fag…” Andrew began before being surprised by her older sister’s palm striking him across his face.
“Don’t let me ever hear you say that again.”
Andrew looked at his sister stunned. She had never struck him before. The act had set him off balance, and he suddenly didn’t know what to do.
“But dad said…” he began.
“Pastor John is not our dad.”
“Well, he is the only one that I ever knew. Our dad died when I was two. Remember?” Andrew said defiantly.
Salome’s tense stance suddenly loosened. Andrew was right. Pastor John had been the only dad that Andrew ever knew. Of course he would call him dad. Of course he would look up to him. It wasn’t Andrew’s fault that he didn’t remember anything their father had said. It was hers.
Staring at her little brother she struggled to remember any time when she had told him about who their father was. Salome hadn’t withheld the information intentionally. She simply found it hard to let go of his memory. And for some reason, she felt that talking about him would give too much of her memories away leaving her with less of an already sparse supply.
“You might not remember him, but I do. And he would never let you use a word like that,” Salome said sympathetically.
“But he’s gay. Everyone knows it,” Andrew said pointing at the smaller boy.
Salome looked back at the kid. The boy had soft eyes and hadn’t yet experienced puberty. Perhaps he was gay. Salome turned back to her brother. “So what?”
Andrew was again left speechless. He knew what Pastor John had preached during his sermons. He knew what the only father he had ever known thought about homosexuals. Homosexuality was a sin. In truth, his stepdad’s attitude made Andrew uncomfortable. But at school with his friends, there was only one way he could act.
“Andrew, our dad didn’t care about things like that,” she said finding it hard to talk about him for the first time. “Even when you were small, Dad would tell us how we had to treat everyone with respect. Everyone. He would never have let Pastor John get away with half of the stuff he gets away with in this town. Andrew, he would want you to think for yourself. Don’t let any of these people decide who you’re gonna be. Do you understand?”
Andrew stared at his sister as if what she said was a revelation. For so long he had wondered about their father. After being brushed off so many times by his sister and mother, he had stopped asking about him. But now, for the first time, he was learning something. And everything he was hearing was filling him with tremendous relief. He desperately wanted to know more.
“What do you think our dad would want me to do?” Andrew asked now peeking back at the smaller kid he was just picking on.
“Dad would want you to go back over there and apologize to him.”
Andrew felt his face flush. “But everyone’s watching.”
“That’s why he would want you to do it,” Salome said with empathy.
Andrew felt his heart beat increase the longer he stared at his sister. He didn’t know it but he was standing at a crossroads. Until this very moment his life was unfathomable and his future seemed mired in pain. But like a ray of sunshine pouring through the clouds, Salome, in her insight, had lit a path for him which he had never thought possible. Wanting for it to be real, he left his sister without a word and returned to the boy he had been bullying.
“Sorry,” he said almost as a whisper. And then walking off, it came as a relief when he heard his two best friends follow. Andrew was sure that they would demand some explanation about what just happened and he would have to produce it. But for this moment, Andrew wanted to bask in the possibility of what his life could be like.
Salome watched her little brother walk away. She understood how much of a disservice she had done the only other person who would care who their dad was. She knew she had to do better. And returning her attention toward Mimi, she noticed that their stalker was gone.
“What was that about?” Mimi asked watching Andrew walk away.
“Just more of Pastor John’s bullshit.”
“Dramatic,” Mimi concluded wanting to change topics. “Hey, do you want to come to my house after school?”