By the Crack of Thunder

Sandpaper. I had always thought sandpaper was obnoxious. It took forever. Created heat that burned the hands. Was uncomfortable and not worth the trouble. But when I got home after Chanel’s that day, I found sandpaper and carefully sanded down my staff. I made it smooth, slick and perfect. When I was done, it was a honed piece of weaponry. I found where I wanted my hands to be and I took two strips of duct tape and made two perfect lines where one hand would go, and a third where the other would rest. Both ends I wrapped to keep the staff from splintering. I sat in the living room with the staff resting on my knees and I just stared at it.

There was a role playing game we played back then that was based around vampires and werecreatures. I had run a game where a werepanther had fallen in love with his racial enemy, a wererat. The two had run away together and had a child. The night of the child’s birth, the family of the mother found them. They attacked and the werepanther fought them all back while his wife died in childbirth.

When the panther looked down at his infant, he saw the infant tearing itself apart. The panther in its blood sought to rip out the rat. This child clawed and screamed at itself, fighting to kill the abomination of its life.

The panther roamed the world fighting to make sense of his loss and his hate. Fighting to make sense of how love could fail and only nature remain. That character’s name was Jamie Peeks.

I named my staff Jamie Peeks.

When we went to Jammy’s house the next day, Walleye had worked on his as well. He had covered the filthy, peeling blue paint with one long strip of electrical tape. He wrapped it in a way that an entire roll of tape was needed, but it was black and sleek. He named it after the lead singer of a band called Wasp. The singer’s name was Blackie Lawless; Walleye called his staff Blackie.

Jammy had stripped every scrap of bark off her sword. She had carved away all the burrs and sanded down the entire length. She carved the name Providence in the handle, and when we all got there, she walked out into the driveway of her house and the three of us stared each other down.

“You guys go,” I said. And it began. Providence and Blackie rioted against each other, Walleye scoring hits and Jammy scoring as well. They seemed evenly matched. Seemed to move in complimenting ways. At one point, the topic of Chanel came up and we toyed with the idea of going to see her, but we were never serious about it. We were not stopping that night until we knew. We had to figure out who was the most ruthless, fastest and most talented stick fighter of our group.

They pulled back hours later and stared at me. I was charged with wrath. I was laughing, sweating and taunting. I called them back in over and over again. I waited and boasted but in the end, they would not come back out after me. We had a theory, but it still needed testing.

It was weeks later. Every time we got together, we battled it out. Every time we found a free moment, we were at each other again. They hopped back after every strike landed, but a hit to me only spurred me on harder. I wanted more, wanted to be hit, wanted to feel the pain of the sting.

Blackie had a whip to him. When Walleye struck a hit, the broom handle would bend around the strike. The bruises Jammy and I would get were never round. They always seemed longer and more like a stripe than a bruise.

Providence was hard. After the wood dried out, the sword took on a stiff quality that would not go away. It was like steel when it hit you. It was like being hammered with an iron mallet.

When I close my eyes now I can still feel those weapons hitting my body. I can feel the bruise that Blackie gave me on my funny bone. A bruise on the funny bone. Every time I bent my elbow it screamed. I can remember the time when Jammy walked me back down the hill of her driveway, almost out into the street. She blocked me from strafing her and she set her feet. She swung high and I blocked high but the swing slid off my Peeks just right and slammed into my head.

The rules said no head for a reason. When that iron wood sword hit my temple, it bruised. I was so filled with rage that I charged her and she ran for her life. I don’t know what would have happened if Walleye had not gotten in front of me.

I can still feel the weapons of some of the best friends I ever had hitting my body. It still fills me with anger at them. That animosity will never go away. I will forever be haunted by the hate those three weapons kindled in me.

Weeks played by and Chanel came back to us. Days after that, Harvard bubbled up from the darkness and came back to us. I always wondered what they thought when they saw what had become of us. I always wondered if they drew back in horror of the thing we were becoming.

It was not long after he came back when we all went out to Harvard’s one night. His parents were gone. Scruff was hiding, and we rattled down to the basement to stew and simmer. We sat around looking at each other, our ever present weapons beside us waiting for our moment. Katty talked. She had been doing more of that. When she first joined us, she was silent almost all the time. By this point, she was ready to start talking. She was talking about Ozzy Osborne and how much of a genius he was when it hit me. I nodded at them, at Walleye and Jammy, and they nodded back.

“Go hide,” I said. “Go hide and I will find you.” They grinned and nodded.

“Can we just hang out tonight?” Chanel asked.

I kissed her head as I stood to pace the floor. “This won’t take long.”

Walleye disappeared out the back door and Jammy went upstairs. I waited and Chanel turned to Harvard. “They are going to break something up there,” she said, pointing at his house.

“Don’t care really. Hope they break their own heads,” he said.

After what seemed like a lifetime, I figured they were hidden and I ran upstairs. I checked the house real quick, but I knew they were outside. I walked out the front door and my gaze swept the driveway. I rushed out into it, keeping away from the bushes and hedges. I turned back to the house and walked around it slowly, giving it a wide berth.
I ended up in the backyard, where a grove began across the yard. I could feel her back there. Could feel her in the trees. I walked out there with my hackles up.

I knew she could be around any of these trees. If she was hiding, she could have stepped out of anywhere and hit me. But I didn’t care. I wanted her to. I wanted to feel Providence’s impact across my body. I walked in and found her sitting against a tree, one knee up, the other stretched out. She lay her head down like a cowboy sleeping under his hat. Providence’s tip dug into the soil. She shook her head and whistled.

“You found me,” she said.

I rushed her where she sat and she rolled to her feet like a cat. I was on her immediately. She ducked and danced between trees and behind bushes. She moved very well and with calculated poise. I came like a wild animal, spitting oaths and swinging. I finally drove her out into the yard and we fought in the grass. Within a few minutes, she was done, and I roared into the wind.

In the distance, lightning crashed. And the growing dark of the coming night showed white fire in the sky.

Glare was suddenly there. He stepped out of the basement and shouted to us to come in. Said a thunderstorm was coming. Said we were being idiots.

We already knew both.

I stepped out into the yard and cast my eye around for any sign of Walleye. I looked up to see his silhouette cut across the dying light where he stood on the roof. I looked up at him and froze. I had never seen anything so terrifying. Had never seen anything so beautiful. He was a god of the storm, of it and commanding it. In that moment I didn’t want him to rise. I didn’t want good things for my good friend. All I wanted was to climb that roof and kick him off. I wanted to see him in pain. There was a moment where I loved him so much it hurt, but at the same time wanted nothing more than to beat him into the ground and stand over him.

An ugly thing had taken control of me. A thing not of this body, but of the mist of my past. I had a thing now that I could beat. A thing that could hurt me and I could growl back at. It didn’t matter that that thing was a kid that loved me, that trusted me. That I cared deeply about. All that mattered was that I needed to defeat it.

I stepped forward and looked up at him. I bowed, an invite for battle, a cry for pain.

He bowed back. He stepped off the back of the house, dropping perfect like a cat before me. We stared at each other for a moment and at a sign neither of us could see. We clashed.

The lightning struck the moment our staffs hit. Jammy cried out in fear and lust, and Walleye and I strove to break one another.

It was all dying around us. But all we wanted was to dance in the growing storm and strive to bring pain to the ones we loved.

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