Most recently, Stefan had been a resident of the Teujimms-Hartley Reintegration and Cognitive Treatment Center at Beaverton. One year and three months of it was spent comatose and half the rest was spent in and out of catatonic stretches between a day and a week, sometimes a month long.

The place he now stepped back into wavered and baked at an unseasonable 103° Fahrenheit, a record for May 3rd. It was always a little dustier and drier than the rest of San Diego County. It was often gritty with it. Today it stood out on all counts.

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The answer to why Stefan was getting out was basic. El Cajon was as close to home as he knew. He had arrived not on a Greyhound but in a Lincoln Continental at the age of 7 and lived here until the coma, a few months shy of 18.

The nurses told him that when he was catatonic, he had the aspect of an angel. When he was not, he had the serene acceptance of one. It was noted in his charts that before every catatonic episode, he would say goodbye to a staff of the center who he had come to know. He simply knew when it was coming on.

It had been a year since any catatonia. He had oddly very little to catch up on, as at some level he had kept up on the news and the sounds on the television they had left on. He had the peculiar experience of knowing what he had never experienced, which he took in stride.

Of the manner in which his own history had played out thus far, Stefan knew that the Whitmans had been arrested and, because he had been unable to testify in court, had been released. He knew Marshall had taken the fall a few years later on a checking fraud scheme, which he surmised Barry had dreamt up. He knew of other injustices.

He also knew that the Sanchez family looked after his care and had visited him at the center on the rainy Oregon coast. They had been treating him like family, as they always had. He knew a few other kind souls who’d ventured up to see him, talk to him. Why not? He was, after all, a good boy

Stefan knew that these reasons were why he needed to make a stop in El Cajon. There was another reason that deftly eluded the focus of him mind’s eye. It confounded him for a moment, but he let go and focused on what lay obvious and vulgar before him.

Across the void of catatonia and coma, in his mind lay his memory of that last 24 hours. Twenty-four hours that swam in a soupy, coppery pool of pain. He remembered it now more clearly than he had experienced it on March 3rd, 1999.

Stefan broke from the memory for now as his feet hit the ground and the doors closed behind him. He adjusted his pack and stretched a bit. El Cajon was the same place, only dirtier now. The heat of the place washed over him in a great dry wave. Stefan Gabori tasted the asphalt-dust blasted place’s air and opened his eyes to 4 years of lost time. It was time to catch up.

He felt a bit of nausea. The voice of his mother admonished him to beware of such people. A shriveled face mouthed a beg and its matching hand waited defiantly.

 

Dance of The Broken Man

The usual gaggle of scamming, twitching, meth-addled tweakers pedaled their ramshackle bicycles a bit less enthusiastically today. The heat would guarantee a slow day for recycling aluminum cans, but the night would be alive with the sound of Dumpster divers and bug-eyed creeps of every shade.

Few of them could lay claim to exploits on par with Reynaldo Hoya’s.

Rey-Rey, as he was known, was a “pro.” Panhandling, especially the aggressive, was what today was perfect for, because hot people pay off to avoid the stress of prolonged begging. The harder people who did not pay tried to ignore Rey-Rey, the easier it would be to pick of their pockets. Heat and discomfort were good for Rey-Rey. Rey-Rey was the best goddamn panhandler ever. His dealer said so.

When the greyhound passenger stepped down onto the pavement, good clothes, and a good backpack in his hands, Reynaldo approached. That he did not recognize the young man from another sidewalk 4 years before was not unusual. Reynaldo had been high almost continuously for 10 years.

“Dude, spare some change for the bus. Help a dude get to work.” It was not posed as a request, but it passed for polite in Rey-Rey’s world.

Gabori looked the little man up and down. He smelled like evil does, pungent spoilage on the smell of shoplifted, unwashed t-shirts and trash-salvaged pants. A chill went down inexplicably from his neck to his guts. “No” was the correct answer.

“No, I can’t,” Gabori said, looking away and grabbing his bag. He added an afterthought of polite dismissal, “Sorry and good luck.”

Such encounters usually ended here for Rey Rey. But Rey Rey had a special eye for details honed in the trashcans and Goodwill containers of East San Diego County… an eye that never missed a dollar. A roll of dollars was exactly what he saw in the jean jacket pocket of one Mr. Gabori.

“Come on, dog, you got some cash, why be a tightass, man? Help me out here. I’ll carry your bag, man,” Rey-Rey entreated Stefan, keeping pace on his cobbled-together Diamondback by walking next to him.

“No, and leave me alone. Go get a job so you can at least beg honestly, please,” Gabori said quietly. Rey-Rey took it for weakness, not politeness.

So, with visions of veritable mountains of crystal to dive into and propel him through virtually days of nonstop frenzied tweakery, Rey-Rey grabbed the bag. When Gabori grabbed back the bag, Rey-Rey cleanly picked the wad and turned to pedal off, quick as you can think it.

“I think not,” Stefan said. He grabbed the man’s collar and anchored his feet, then pulled hard.Rey-Rey felt himself pulled out of his bike and watched the road ahead turn to sky, then grunted as he landed on his back. He watched the supposed soft-touch stand on his wrist and snatch the wad away, take back his easy street yank…

A few yards away, his bike fell after free-wheeling into the stoplight, snapping the brake handle cleanly off.

“Stay down,” Stefan said. To Rey-Rey’s eyes, he could not be old enough to buy beer, he did not look tough enough to want one.

This shit was not going to stand. Rey-Rey said a quiet prayer to his secret “patron saint” (rapper Ice T) and stood up, swinging wildly at the punk who would dare stand up to the “Rey de Reyes!”

“You motherfucker! I will fucking kill you! Give me that fucking money!” Rey-Rey flailed, ineffectually spitting and intermittently cursing, his courage went more slowly than his energy, and he soon was out of breath and doubled over.

“You are a nasty, selfish little man,” Stefan whispered. “You need to quit using…”

Rey-Rey snaked his arm over and punched Stefan in the stones before he could finish. He spit in the mark’s face before reaching down to take his prize. Has he bent over, his face hit the ground fast, hard, and painfully.

Stefan had Rey-Rey’s wrist. His nuts and guts felt like they were trying to escape through his mouth as he stood, twisting and folding the little man’s wrist. Rage boiled within him and he waited for it to subside even as he started grinding his heel into Rey’Rey’s nape.

“Fuck you! Fuck Fuck Fuck you!” the little man growled between his teeth as Stefan wiped his face clean with his free hand, keeping Rey-Rey’s arm locked.

Stefan grimaced as a heavy boot crashed into his back shin and slid over it. He kept his balance and glared down at the back of the ugly little man’s head. When he saw the boot move to kick him again, he reacted instinctively. The nasty little man went limp.

Stefan felt the nauseous, draining flow of cold slide off of him and onto the man. Rey-Rey’s eyes opened to a world all its own.

Onlookers saw Stefan straighten up and dust himself off. The twitching, bug-eyed tweaker, on the other hand, turned to chat up the thin air behind him.

When the odd little addict still standing in the bus lanes began to dance and talk to himself in a loud and dated urban vocabulary, they collectively graduated from casual onlookers and reluctant witnesses to slack-jawed audience members.

Some missed buses. Some did not since their buses waited as the drivers looked on at the strange scene in the transit center. Those few who knew or knew of Rey-Rey among them just wondered why the hell he did not run.

But Rey-Rey couldn’t run just now, as he was talking business with Mr. Ice T himself.

“Sup Rey-Rey?” Ice-T asked, slapping hands and elevating Rey-Rey to near immortality in his own mind.

“Ice T! Oh shit, what’s up, man?” Rey-Rey looked around, wondering where the rapper and, more recently, character actor had appeared from. “Ice T! In El Cajon!” He shared with the skeptical co-travelers. Some laughed nervously.

“Hey. Ice T, man. What are you doing in El Cajon?” he asked, bewildered.

“I came down to see you do your thing, Rey. You know, I’ve been looking for some break dancers to bust some old school moves in my next video. You know, that old Robot shit and some floor maneuvers to hook the OGs with.” Ice T smiled and looked off. “I hear you can’t do that shit anymore, because you lost your rhythm and all that.”

“What? T?! I have ALL my rhythm!” Rey-Rey declared, gesturing imagined homies to roll out unseen linoleum. “I even have a few new steps!”

So began the bizarre show at the El Cajon Transit cum Arts Center.

“Robot? Okay, man, okay. Check it out, T,”

Rey Rey twitched and creaked through a completely bizarre Robot that ended with a Michael Jackson styled crotch grab. The crowd chuckled at the antics.

“Okay,Rey-Rey,” The imagined rap icon said, scratching his beard. “You might know some Robot, but let’s see you bust some floor maneuvers.”

A single El Cajon Valley Police car parked behind the transit center. The officer within looked on bewildered as the suspect began with a 6-step, broke into a quick hand spin that fell apart into a shaking “freeze” then groaned into a bad rendition of a butt spin. He exited the car unimpressed.

Stefan watched the ghostly illusion before Rey-Rey’s eyes play on and reached out, drew in the fabric of the scene to release him. He vomited as a familiar feeling overcame him and the scene became more solid, less distant.

“Get gymnastic, Rey!” Ice T cheered.

Rey-Rey, shaken to his withered little soul, tried to oblige his phantasmal idol. He launched himself from an aborted buttspin into an elevated hard landing and face-scraping worm that was soon abandoned for a skin-ripping backspin that ended with a nose-smashing face-brake.

Rey-Rey tasted chalk and copper as his jaw snapped and his last tooth splintered.

“It’s cool, Ice T, it’s cool!” he said, blood and spittle spraying, embarrassed. “I can do the head-spin for you, man. Check it out!”

And so, despite his bleeding face, mouth full of broken teeth and blood-and-gums mud, and having never done one in his life, Rey-Rey did a headstand that he tried to spin on. He succeeded in creating only a large hairless section on top of his head and breaking his clavicle as he collapsed sideways in a twisted pile.

Stefan shivered as a familiar, huddled figure moved through the crowd and hovered over Rey-Rey and Ice T, wringing its hands. Wringing her hands

To the crowd, a police officer approached and Rey-Rey’s antics graduated from entertainingly bizarre to fatally stupid.

He tried to wave off the illusion desperately and futilely. The illusory Ice T turned and looked at him. Stefan saw only a skull and heard a scream of black rage that drowned out the world for a moment.

“Stop and lay face down on the…” the officer timed his approach perfectly wrongly and the worn out work boot on Rey-Rey’s left foot caught him in the face.

Rey Rey knew only that he had spun! On his head, he had spun! Rey-Rey secretly suspected the amphetamines were the ticket. He did not know that he had chunks of glass embedded in his scalp from the roadway and had left chunks of scalp embedded in the searing pavement.

“Get on the ground and put your hands out to your sides! Now!” the officer said, weapon instantly out as he backed off to get some room.

Rey-Rey stood and looked right into the eyeless sockets of a skeleton. When it screamed, he reacted. The knife never slid home. Rey-Rey felt flight and an odd tugging at his back as two 9mm rounds and a profusion of pellets passed through his chest and ripped parts of 3 ribs, his aorta and left lung messily out, scattering them across the asphalt with his scalp.

Stefan watched the illusion fade with Rey-Rey’s life.

“What… wha…” and thusly did Rey-Rey, formerly Reynaldo Hoya of El Cajon, meet his closing curtain on the stage that was El Cajon Transit Center. Stafan felt cold and gulped. He felt Rey-Rey slip away and the illusion unwind itself from the fabric of his reality.

No one noticed him walk away, and he availed himself of it.

There had been no plan on March 3rd for Ermin Sanchez. That day, Ermin was just enjoying the morning. This was not unusual for Mr. Sanchez, as life was a bit light of late. Ermin had a full-time job (union, pensioned and secure) with Lucky Stores, which he still called Food Basket. He was finished with his classes at El Cajon Valley High and only took a morning PE and a woodworking course to stay eligible to play baseball. Ermin started college at SDSU in the fall. Ermin was in damn good shape.

He turned down the radio and pulled over behind his amigo Stefan, of whom he liked to say: el Gabos atar a cabos. This guy could always put two and two together. From the very first day they met in the line to sign up for baseball… or rather, by the line behind some bleachers where Sanchez was being “quizzed” by some varsity players about his qualifications, Gabos had been a loyal friend.

“Do you have a green card, you fucking beaner? Do you?” the senior sneered at him from under a stringy mop of red hair.

The lanky Gabori had just walked over as Sanchez was shoved and pushed around under the bleachers. But for some reason, Sanchez knew he was not going to join in. This was the walk of the valeroso. He was unsure of himself but sure in what was right.

“How do we know you won’t sneak off and take a fucking siesta during the game, you wetback fucker?” One sneered at him, letting spit spray on Ermin’s face through his teeth. “You want a bean burrito, you little shit?”

“What are you so afraid of?” Gabos cut in, grabbing their attention. “Is he better than you? DO YOU have green cards? I mean, if you need a green card to play, I guess all you guys have one, too, right?”

It was courage enough to interrupt, but the upperclassmen saw this act as one of volunteerism, not heroism. One of them grabbed Gabos by the neck and pinned him on the bleacher’s support posts.

“What are YOU going to do about it, Sinbad?” and whipped the bandanna off of Gabori’s head, smacking him as he did it. “You think you can…”

And his nose exploded in a spray of blood. Gabori slipped his grasp as he crumpled and kicked the boy behind him squarely in the jewels as the older boy’s haymaker smacked Gabos a little sideways.

Ermin barely had time to take it all in before he heard a little voice in his head say “Fold the finger he’s poking in your chest back and start punching him.”

He did, and the senior screamed in pain as his throwing hand lost the use of his index finger for the season. The redheaded boy who landed the shot on Gabori was now holding his huevos and shaking in the dirt, Ermin noticed.

The bloody-nosed bully tried to put Gabos in a chokehold, but Gabos reached back and tweaked his nose, wriggled free and shoved Ermin just enough to get his legs moving and his arm to stop pistoning in adrenaline-fueled fear and anger at the now- groggy senior’s face.

And then they were in line, signing on, saying nothing of the incident.

“Thanks, man,” Ermin said, extending a hand as they left the tryouts signup table.

“It’s cool, I wish I had gotten my bandana back, though.” He said it seriously, looking back under the bleachers.

“Hey, that guy… he needs it for his nose, man. Hah, you got him good,” Ermin laughed and looked over, offered to shake hands. “I’m Ermin. Glad you came by.”

“I’m Stefan, Ermin,” he said, shaking Ermin’s hand.

And though it was not likely the case, this quieter voice seemed very much that same one that told him to bend the bully’s finger back and fight. But of course, that was crazy. Muy loco. Imposible.

Ermin remembered all of this as he pulled over. It was good to have a friend like Gabos. “Gabos, dude. Let’s get some breakfast, man!”

Gabori kept walking wordlessly. Ermin pulled over ahead of him and got out, then stopped in his tracks on seeing Gabo’s face.

It was purple on the entire right side, and blood was crusted near the top of his head. His eyes were focused straight down Park Avenue. One was filled with blood. As he shambled past the Weinerschnitzel in the early daylight, he had the look of a zombie.

“Gabos. Oh my god, what the fuck, man? SHIT, Stefan, get in my car, we’ve got to get you to the hospital, man!” He tried to guide Gabos to the car by his arm.

Gabos stiffened and whispered raggedly “My mom did it last night, Ermin. The Whitman guy… the stupid one Marshall, hit me with a board and took her medicine money. I must have been out for a few hours by Leslie Street, in the alleyway.”

He looked up, his right eye crusted with blood around the lids; his eyelashes were stuck to each other.

“When I got home she was dead. She had some left, but she did not take them,” he paused and calmly breathed in deeply, wavered. “She took all her sleeping pills instead.”

Ermin deflated at the news, shaking his head. Both Stefan and Ermin knew that the day would come. Gabos would be late, or maybe stuck somewhere. Someday, Stefan had to be too late to stop his mother from succeeding where she had always either failed or feigned failure for attention.

“She meant it this time, Erm. She was just waiting for a time when she knew I could not stop her. She… she was smiling.” Gabos fell silent for a moment, a silence that Ermin knew was not born of the his quiet personality, but of pain. “So stop thinking she was just after attention. I felt her happiness when I got home, man. It was like she ate an ice cream sundae after a long stretch of hungry. All over the house”

Ermin looked blankly at Stefan and thought, “Okay, he’s really fucked up. Why hasn’t he called the cops?”

“I can’t see, everything’s blurry and all double-vision.” Gabos looked at the car, saw himself in the windshield, and nodded “I need a bandage.”

“No, loco. You need a doctor and I need to call the cops, man.”

Ermin managed to get Stefan in the car and made a quick call to the police on the family’s cell phone, an excessive measure his mother took with him when he worked overnight, and that he now felt was justified.

“Yeah, I am taking him to Grossmont now. Emergency. Okay, yes please call the hospital for me, thank you. Thank you.” The call was over, but Ermin felt suspicion in the dispatcher’s voice.

“Hang in there, Gabos,” he looked over “Shit, you are fucked up, man.”

By the time he reached Grossmont Hospital at 6:15 AM, the El Cajon Police Department was looking for Barry and Marshall Whitman. By 7:00 AM, Stefan was resting and bandaged on a bed. Wires and tubes were everywhere.

“Okay, man. They say you need to rest, your face has no broken bones, but you probably have a major concussion,” Ermin looked down. “You’ll be okay but you have to stay still and let them treat you, man.”

 

The Darkness of Dawn and Day

“Stefan. Stefan Gabori, you listen to me and hear what I am saying to you. You get UP, Stefan Gabori! You get up and you go talk to that boy,” Lillian admonished him, frowning at him. He thought she was almost always frowning.

“Mama, please,” he said. “He is not hurting the cats. How do you know?”

The fury with which a mother’s gaze can be delivered was always enough to move him. It was no different this time. When he left, dressed warmly and still not wholly convinced, he was reminded.

“You make him leave the cats alone, and you tell him to stop throwing the eggs at the house, Stefan,” she said. “Then you come home and help your mother get ready for her trip, okay? Promise your mama this?”

“Promise,” he croaked. “Bye Mama.”

Had he been asked, Stefan would admit he knew she was right before he left. The eggs and the cat abuse had to stop. His mother wanted him to convince the offender that it was not nice in the way that she knew only he could. Stefan would do so, because he was a good son and a good boy. Later that morning, if dawn can be late at all, he slipped out from behind the fence and grabbed Mr. Randall Mason’s forearm. Stopping him in his tracks and hearing Randy’s filthy, black soul babble demonically in his mind, he knew she’d been right.

The uninformed asking Randall Mason about his plans for March 3nd would get the banal fare of any other teenager’s day. Except today, or if on any other day he had answered honestly, in which case an accounting of his nasty designs would have spilled like raw sewage from him.

Randall had started every day until today before dawn, running a few miles around the area roughly bounded by Anza and Jamacha on the west and east respectively, Washington and Chase Avenue on the north and south. As the sun came up, he would keep an eye out for animals. Animals of any sort were acceptable. They were targets.

If a cat appeared on a fence, a stream of pellets accompanied by guffaws would quickly knock it back under cover. Pigeons disappeared in clouds of feathers. Dogs barked and growled, then broke and ran as their faces were pelted and sometimes bloodied. Randy changed his route daily, because even his limited intelligence had taught him that animals adapt and hide when they know you are coming.

Randy’s BB gun was bought for $19.95 from an 800 number on the television. It looked like an Uzi; it had a 300 bb capacity and took a can of Freon to fire its load. He was supposed to have gotten a free bonus gun for ordering immediately, but it had never arrived and the company had gone out of business a few weeks after selling their inventory out.

It gave Randy POWER and a STIFFY when he used it. Until Gabori had stopped all that, it would have been absolutely required activity for a fine morning like March 3rd.

Randy never paid much attention to Gabori, or “Gabos” as their teammates called him. Firstly, Gabori did not take “roids,” because he was not “a team player.” Gabori did not drink after the game because was a “pussy bookworm.” Gabori did not stick around for the parties because he had to take care of that “fucking crazy old lady” that showed up and cheered him wildly in shrill tones, or glowered at the field as the game progressed. All of this, in the mind of one Randall Mason, made Gabos a LOSER.

But on March 2nd, looking up at Gabori, who he had always thought was shorter than him, who he had always thought was weaker than him and who he had believed was not worth paying attention to, Randy knew he had been VERY wrong.

Gabori glared and held a shaking cat in one hand, Randy’s wrist in the other… the Uzi-like BB gun fell and its cheap plastic casing broke on the cement, freon hissing out of the charger, sputtering.

Stefan felt the cool tingle down his back and up again as the nasty teammate’s vile acts danced in his mind’s eye. He was sickened. He forced himself to snap out of it, pushing the sickness and the anger back out of himself. He felt Randy shake.

“You are a weak, pathetic, sad little boy, Randy, “ Gabori said, seeming even larger now. “You should learn to respect other creatures before something bad happens to you. Something terrible might happen, you know…”

Randy felt sudden, overwhelming and completely unfamiliar shame as he saw the little cat shaking. But it was a black fear and stomach-twisting nausea he felt as he looked up into Gabori’s countenance. He went to his knees weeping and did not know why. But he knew he hated feeling shame, and he hated being afraid, and he knew that he very much hated Gabori because he was very afraid of Stefan, and very ashamed of it.

“You will never shoot anything again, Randy. You will be sick when you try. You will sweat and whimper and vomit on yourself at the thought of it. And if you try to anyways, you will pay dearly.”

The little cat in Gabori’s arms hopped down as he released Randall. It was unharmed, and seemed happy as you please rubbing on Gabori’s legs, despite Randy’s placement of had been no less than 50 BBs in its ass and back just a few minutes before.

Gabori moved away. He seemed like a cat himself as he faded into the predawn fog shrouding Mollison, hopping a fence, eyes locked on Randall. “I’ll be watching, Mason,” was all he said before morning fog wrapped itself around him and bore him off.

If Gabori had never seen him, it is likely Randy would have cited a little animal abuse as part of his plans for the day. But Gabori had, and Randall never would include his little jaunts of terror in his plans again, because Gabori had broken the twisted joy of it. No, more than that… Gabori had broken Randy’s will to do it.

Randall Mason vomited, and then dry-retched when there was nothing left to puke. Though he left vileness of a certain kind on the sidewalk and gutter, it is that which he retained that defined the path before him.

Randy crawled the two blocks to home and clambered into bed in pain. His legs were on fire and his ass felt as if a hundred needles stabbed him. He did not connect his imagined wounds to his erstwhile feline vitim, but knew he had experienced a life-altering moment on Mollison Avenue.

Randy’s father was so moved by his son’s pain that he did not beat the living crap out of him when the moans and whimpers woke him from his hard-won hangover. He simply closed the door and passed out again on the couch.

Delilah visited him for a little romp. He was unable to do anything but cry. When the day closed and Randy felt better, he devised his simplistic vengeance and drove to Wells Park. There, he found the Whitmans, a castoff pair of thugs he knew would do anything for $50, and made sure they knew that it had to, “Hurt. A lot.”

So today, Randall, thought, he would be checking on his Gabori plan with the stoners he had paid to jump him. After making sure that Gabori had paid for whatever freak weirdo stuff he had done to him, Randy would pick up his girlfriend at her home early, to facilitate a manliness-affirming blowjob. The day at school would end with a baseball game at home against the hated Foothillers of Grossmont High School. Randy would kill the ball and be a celbrated hero. No “Gabos” would be involved.

That was the plan; it was the play Mr. Quarterback was calling, it was the design on the board. It would not pan out. At 7:03 AM, he slammed his window shut to block out the baying dogs from the neighborhood and inadvertently woke his father. He barely made it out of the house and was nearly brained by an empty Wild Turkey bottle for it.

 

The Vindication of Mothers

On March 3rd, 1998 at 7:03 AM, every animal that communicated with sound began to do so at full volume in the area roughly defined by Jamacha and Anza (east and west), Washington and Chase Avenue, north and south. By 7:15, every animal in El Cajon and parts of the county along Avocado and Jamacha to Casa De Oro had joined the cacophony. They abruptly ceased at 7:45.

If one had asked Barry and Marshall Whitman what they planned to do with March 3rd, they would gladly have detailed the many ways in which they intended to enjoy the money they “beat out” of one Stefan Gabori. Which is to say that they would tell you from whom they would buy their marijuana, and which Iron Maiden album was on their shopping list to smoke it by.

They might also mention, in passing, that they were very grateful to one Randall Mason for paying them to beat Gabori up in the first place. His on-and-off girlfriend Delilah Butler, whose Boy Band musical tastes were “gay as hell” but who retained a “hot as hell” body, might warrant mention as well, if only to speak more bravely on her charms than they would before Randy.

Returning to the topic before them, it is likely that Barry would relay the fact that he had paid one Rey-Rey the sum of one cheap rosary that he could “totally get for like, a buck” in exchange for his silence.If pushed a bit, or pressed by a person of respect, the two “metalheads” would gladly detail how they knocked the Mr. Gabori down “totally Hacksaw Jim Duggan-style,” which is to say, with a 2 x 4 from behind. They would then argue inanely about how many times each had kicked or punched Gabori in the apparent brawl afterward.

They would lie, as Marshall had simply walked behind Stefan and knocked him over the head with a 2×4, rifled his pockets (stealing his mother’s lithium money) and run away as fast as he could. It was important that Gabori had not seen them. Gabori was “weird.” There had been no brawl, and neither had the courage for that, anyways.

BAMM-BAMM-BAMM-BAMM-BAMM!

Barry Whitman knew the sound. Someone was pounding the aluminum door to his makeshift home, the right-field storage shed at the Wells Park Baseball diamond. He groggily laid a hand on the pipe by his completely younger brother and stretched. One quick threat and a little pipe waving would send the old volunteer groundskeeper running.

BAMM-BAMM-BAMM-BAMM-BAMM!

Barry dimly fumbled with the latch he had installed here when their mother, deaf to all but the bible, had tossed her hearing children out for smoking what she could smell and see to music she would rather not know they owned.

BAM-BAM!

The door was not heard until she hit it so hard it actually moved. Barry knew who it was. He also knew the smoke was too thick and stinky to hide. He knew she had gotten home in record time. Barry and Marshall were busted.

“Wha are oo doing in tha’ woom, boys! Opem ‘iss dowor wight now!” she screamed as the music came down and she became audible, if barely…

BAM-BAM!

“IF oo don’ opem iss door I will caw yuh pwobation offifer and HE can ope it FOR you!” she glared as it swung open and the cloud of stinking smoke and rancid clothes, old food, grease and dirt washed into the otherwise immaculate house.

“What di’ I tell you if you dit it agin, Barry? Huh? I tol’ you you would be out for guhd! Didn’t I?” she said, beet-red. As deaf as she had been to the music, she was even deafer to their pleas that day.

“Mom, come on. We’ll stop, I promise! We just wanted to see what it was like! Please? I mean, Our friend gave us this stuff! Rey-Rey! You know him? Please, Mom!”

“Nnno! Shoo ge’ Ow uff myee housh!” she had said in the voice so often and cruelly mocked by her monstrous spawn.And despite himself, the dull, mean-spirited Barry laughed and Marshall pointed at her as he joined in. She knew why.She did not cry this time, and she did not repeat herself. She grabbed her eldest son’s ear and twisted as hard as she could, standing him on his toes and walking him out of the house.

“Mom, mom MOM! Stop! Come on! STOP! MOM! OWWW!” he tripped and fell down the porch steps. She turned as he held his ankle and moaned, playing for sympathy. Somehow he knew it would not work.

When she returned for Marshall, he was still smiling vapidly. She smacked him so hard that her arm shuddered to her shoulder and he burst into tears as his borderline retarded mind caught up with the reality that this time was his last. Marshall Whitman was now homeless, and as stupid as laying himself at the mercy of his cruel brother was, he would do so.

If Ursula Whitman cried longer in her life, she could not remember it. But after 2 hours of it, she straightened up and achieved the mental clarity with which she had left the boys’ father puking and bleeding in a rundown trailer park in Lafayette, Louisiana. The house took 2 weeks to sell. Of El Cajon, Baptists and bibles Ursula Whitman would know not one bit more. Of her sons, she could care no longer.

BAMM-BAMM-BAMM-BAMM!

Barry snapped out of his near-dream memories and drew on the rage there, snapped the latch open and screamed “What the fuck do you want!?” as he threw the aluminum shed open and raised the pipe menacingly.

He crumpled around Randall Mason’s fist as it dug into his guts.

“Calm down, dude.” Randy said, holding his fist ready to hit the loser again. “Fucking calm down, I will BEAT your ass, man. Calm down.”

Barry slowly caught his breath, gasping and retching dryly “Sorry, Randy… thought you were the parks volunteer guy again. Fuck, that hurt. Ohh, shit…”

“Dude, you need some fucking counseling or something. You have serious anger, man. I had half a mind to shove that pipe up your dumb ass and rip it out,” Randall admonished him, a tinge of regret lingering in his voice for the missed opportunity to cleanly whoop ass.

Randall saw Marshall lumber out of the shed and yawn, a cloud of stink from every part of him washing over the still morning air. “Who is here so fucking early. Barry, why… oh. Hey, Randy, what’s up?”

“Did you two retards do what I paid you to?”

“Oh, dude! We knocked him out, man! He went down so hard. I hit him with a 2×4 and cracked his damn head wide open,” Marshall cackled excitedly. “And we got extra fucking cash, man. Almost two…”

Barry’s hard right hand into Marshall’s guts silenced him.

“Randy, he’s totally jacked up and we left him knocked out on the sidewalk and bleeding, man. We get $50 more, right?”

Randy paid him, leaning close “I’m serious, man. He had better be fucked up when I see him. I better not see him too soon, either, you fucking dirtbags.”

Barry watched him leave, his middle finger high in the air whenever Randy turned away. When, finally, Randall Mason disappeared from the parking lot of Wells Park, Barry muttered “What a fag, man. Total poop-chute bandit.”

Marshall groaned in assent.

“Let’s go to Blue Meanie’s and get some Iron Maiden, bro,” Barry said, lifting his filthy, unwashed brother from the ground by his arm.

“Eddie’s Archive! Eddie’s Archive!” Marshall chanted, marching militarily. Barry tuned him out, but Marshall persisted in it all the way to the record store.

That Delilah Butler lived a few blocks from El Cajon Valley High School was convenient to Randy. Hearing the story and punching that Whitman kid had worked the special magic getting power always did. Time out! The Quarterback has a stiffy!

It was 7:30 AM and for once, Debbie was outside and waiting, not playing coy as she usually did when he came for her. She nonetheless did not look happy.

“My mom does not want me to see you, Randy,” she said, looking down, not meeting his eyes. “She says you are not very nice and that you don’t care about me or what I want, and I think she’s right.”

“Baby, come on,” Randall whispered gently as the charm was turned on and his boyish, deceitful smile slid out. “Your mom hasn’t gotten to know me yet. She just can’t understand that I love you and…”

The door practically flew off the trailer as Mrs. Mary Anne Butler pushed 320 pounds through a doorway designed for half that and onto the wooden stairwell, then alarmingly quickly toward Randall’s Ranger.

“You get the hell away from our Delilah you dirty, filthy little pig! Get out of here! William!”

The windshield spider-webbed as the prodigiously fat fist of Mrs. Mary Anne Butler crashed into it. Spittle flew from her mouth as she blubbered and screeched at him, raking his arms with her yellowed, hard fingernails through his window.

“I’ll rip that little pecker right off you, you godless little bastard!” she lost her footing as he accelerated, and she cried as she hit the ground.

He turned calmly and flipped off Mary Anne Butler as she picked herself up slowly from the gravel. It was not calm so much as an absolute lack of emotion that he experienced. It was an untimely indulgence.

He was out of the driveway and heading down Madison Avenue toward El Cajon Valley High School when Mr. Butler fired off his shotgun into the tailgate, causing Randy to piss through what remained of his flagging stiffy.

What he had learned was that he was very glad he had kept his sweats in the truck and that the gym had showers open before school. He also learned that no amount of manipulation was likely to fully wrest Delilah from her parents’ home, no matter how much time he might spend at it. Mostly, Randall decided, he was having a bad week. Had Randall Mason any idea how bad his week would be, it is likely he would have stayed home.

The Damnation of Randall Mason

Stefan Gabori walked and breathed steadily down West Main. El Cajon was hot and dry, and it tasted of sweat and dirt, blood and sun-heated metal. On reaching Emerald, he stopped and scanned the bleak, run-down neighborhood. Before he called the Sanchez family, he needed to go home.

The jungle, they called this place. It was 5:30 PM and the place was alive with frenzied activity. A few tweakers pedaled bug-eyed and paranoiac around the area, eyes dancing across the collected junk of a thousand cheap apartments’ porches. Something, anything to sell for a buck would do. They all looked for the same reasons, but still all thought they might find something unnoticed. Gabori knew them for what they were, but they were new only in name.

He approached the little house between the rundown apartments and saw the faded, chipped paint. He saw the old police tape, rotting and fading in the sun on the lawn, anchored by the wooden stakes that served as no fence to the curious, the homeless, or the wicked. He walked up and fished in his pocket.The key still worked. The sound of the latch turning rolled him back in time, and his memories overcame him.

“Stefan, you get up now.”

“Mama?” he asked, but he heard no reply.

Awake in the forest of wires and tubes, he slowly detached them. No one came to stop him as he gathered himself and put his clothes back on. As luck would have it, a cheap, cash-only “Silver Cab” waited outside.

“El Cajon Valley High School, please.” He knew it was the right thing to do. He was a good boy, and good boys go to school.

“Okay, kid,” the driver said. “Are you sure you should be leaving the hospital, you look a little unsteady.”

“I’ll be fine,” the kid said. “Just get me to school.”

He swam in his barely-conscious state down Fletcher Parkway, Broadway… at Mollison he blinked as he spied the Whitmans trundling eastward, but they were gone when he looked again, or out of view.

“That will be $15.75, kiddo,” the driver looked back, hand out.

“I need to get some money out of my locker,” Gabori rasped. “Keep my wallet, I’ll be right back.”

“Fine, but be fast,” the grizzled old biker groaned. ”The meter’s running.”

Gabori was anything but fast. Still, he labored to move faster and the locker room teetered as he did. He made it to his locker and stood paralyzed as an icy cold slid down his back and his stomach lurched.

Dripping. It was not in the shower, but much closer. Stephan Gabori forced his swimming vision to peer around. He saw a puddle forming at the end of the row. He quietly peered around and looked right into the eyes of one Randall Mason.

“Ooooohhh f f fuck m m mee, ssssshit,” was all Randall Mason said before he swung hard and connected. Gabori tilted then fell, his mind exploding in brilliant dots then cascading in stars and streaks as his cracked skull bounced on the cement.. He looked up and the ice now ran in his veins as the voice spoke again.

“That is the boy, Stefan. He hurts the cats. He throws the eggs at the house! I have seen him!” Randall heard the voice as a rambling gibberish whispered like some movie special effect. He suspected immediately that someone was on the PA.

Either way, he kicked Gabori in the guts then backed away skittishly, cowed by his experience. “You fucking turd. Fuck with ME!” His confidence grew as he looked at the blackened face and weak, pale Gabori. Like any dumb animal might, Randall circled and struck cowardly at the injured Gabori’s prone form.

“You have to fight him, Stefan. You have to punish him good for it. Come, Stefan, he will only hurt more people if you let him!”

“HEY! Who’s there!?” Randall yelled, hoping it was a prank. The gibberish voice was scaring him. “You trying some more weirdo stuff on me, Gabori? Huh? I guess you didn’t learn anything from having your head beat in, did you. Maybe I should call the Whitmans and…”

Randall Mason squeaked as he choked. Gabori stood, so fast that it looked like he just popped into place, tottering but with a vise-like grip on the bully’s neck. “You are NOTHING, Randall Mason,” he said, and it was Randall’s turn to see dots.

“You are EVIL, Randall Mason”, and the grip tightened. He heard the voice in his head. No air reached Randall’s lungs now, nor escaped.

“You should know what it is like to DIE with no HOPE,” Randall’s heart pushed the last beat of blood into his neck and the flow into his carotids ceased.

And as the old, crazy woman simply appeared behind Gabori and Randall’s vision faded, her skin flew off and her voice screeched out at him “You will live, but your soul is DEAD, boy!” Her skeletal, bloody claw snaked into his chest and as he blacked out, Randall Mason, soulless coward, crapped himself.

Gabori blinked as Mason slumped and slid out of his grip.

“Shit, kid,” said the cab driver. “Oh, Jesus, what the fuck. You had me drive you here to fight that guy? Holy crap, man! I am so fucking boned, you have no idea.”

Gabos walked back and reached into his locker and got his cleats, fished a $20 bill out one and leaned against the locker. He handed it over and looked up at the man.

“Go. Thanks.”

“Shit,” was all that the cabbie said, looking at the unconscious Mason as he walked out. “Christ, you fucking kids are crazy nowadays.”

Stephan Gabori slumped and turned, slid down the locker and closed his eyes. They did not open again for three months.

Randall watched, shaking, as Gabori passed out… he tried to rise but as he did so, the fleshless crazy woman reappeared holding something small and wispy in her skeletal hand. It hissed and squeaked as she crushed it. The flesh reappeared on her face and became a spiteful smile.

“A boy without a heart needs no soul,” she cackled and faded away.

Randall Mason fainted as a dull, aching emptiness overtook him.

Randall “Randy” Mason was released from the hospital at noon, Saturday, March 7th 1998 after a 72-hour evaluation with the San Diego County Adolescent Psychiatric Unit at Loma Portal. His father sent a taxi for him.

When Randy returned home, he was met with a table full of his own syringes, vials of human growth hormone and an odd assortment of rather adult objects. The beating lasted for an hour. Randall did not try to escape, but sobbed and moaned the whole time.

When his father pulled out a BB gun that looked rather like his recently lost model, Randy was too beaten and tired to move or resist. Randall had always wondered why he had not received his free “bonus” BB gun.

By 11:43 PM, Randall Mason’s father had called the police and reported his death. When asked why he had killed his own flesh and blood, the father responded matter-of-factly and without shame. “He was a bad boy and he deserved it.”

Medical Examiner Sheila McClurg removed 3,937 copper bbs from Randall Mason’s stomach, lungs, throat, ears, Eustachian tubes and sinus cavities. She also counted 76 separate injection sites, bruised and swollen, that leaked every form of steroid, hormone and supplement available, as well as a largish amount of KY jelly.

The cause of Randall Mason’s, she wrote, was suffocation.

The Whitmans Meet a Rock Star

Stefan Gabori opened the door and stepped into his mother’s house. Filth and decay blended sickeningly sweet, overripe garbage rot and human offal into a disgusting, heavy dankness. He walked in calmly and kicked the detritus of sporadic, huddled homeless encampment out of his way. There was nothing here for him any longer.

Then he heard music and looked down the hallway. A light was shining out from under the door to his bedroom. He listened.

Riding through dust clouds and barren wastes

Galloping hard on the plains

Chasing the redskins back to their holes

Fighting them at their own game

Murder for freedom a stab in the back

Women and children and cowards attack

He opened the door and hissed as he took in air. Barry Whitman stood in the middle of the room, bouncing his head and waving his arms as if he were playing the drums. He was gaunt, ragged and manic. He turned and looked right at Stefan, his spindly arms slowing as his jaw dropped and revealed a green and brown, shattered mouth of mush and sores.

“Holy, holy, shitsy shit! DUDE! MARSHALL!” the stick-figure Barry bellowed

Stefan held his ground and waited. He felt an odd confidence and his little moment with Rey-Rey told him he was resilient enough.

“Hey, uh, get out of here, um, you fucker,” stammered the lumbering, tattooed Marshall as he disentangled himself from a pile comprised of filthy rags, Roberto’s cups and styrofoam containers. Barry hopped up and down, slapping at Marshall, panicked and wide-eyed.

“Marsh, dude. It’s the Gabori dude, oh my god, dude, fuck shit kill him, dude, totally crush him, man. Holy FFUCK FUCK FUCK F F F F FUCK!” the wired, animated Barry gibbered.

Stefan met Marshall’s dull gaze and locked eyes with him. Marshall opened his mouth to say something but froze as he heard something in his head.

“I know what you did. I am going to send you back to jail. You and your brother are going to pay. I am glad you know what prison’s like. I am sure you won’t mind going back, Marshall. I am sure they all miss you.”

Marshall knew. Marshall had blocked out all the time before he got hold of his tormentor’s neck and twisted until his head came around in a complete 360 ° neck-liquefying crunch. He remembered well.

“N-n-n-nooo, not again, no MORE! PLEASE!” the man child whimpered and sobbed to his knees.

Barry Whitman looked down at his brother then up at the glaring Gabori. He started making a whining, rasping noise in his throat and grabbed a piece of pipe. He charged and swung wildly as Gabori flipped a pile of rotting newspaper up and over his head. Barry cursed and fumed. He connected in one wildly arcing with the front of the stolen television and the perilous extension cord jungle that fed it streamed electrons into his arm, up his shoulder and over his faced. Eleven amperes of electricity snapped his jaw shut as the CRT shattered and exploded.

Barry’s remaining teeth fractured, the tastes of white-hot melted fillings and bitter, powdered enamel were strong as his lower jaw snapped and split.

The stolen power gave out as a distant fuse popped and Marshall Whitman lunged forward at the distracted Gabori, a single blow knocking Stefan’s head into the wall. Stefan felt nothing as the heavy blows rained down on him.

Marshall pounded at the prone figure, kicking and stomping at it as his brother moaned behind him. He pulled the man face up and Gabori looked right into his eyes and grabbed his arm. The world swam.

He tried to release himself but he was paralyzed. The world was made of molasses and tar. Gabori smiled and Marshall was alone in the house. It was dark.

Crunch.

Splintering wood and nails pulling free echoed through the stinking house. A massive crashing crunching cavalcade followed a large grunt and suddenly night sky showed above him. Marshall saw a hand grab the edges… a withered but gigantic hand.

Marshall Whitman lost his continence in perfect rhythm with reality’s loss of coherence as Eddie, Iron Maiden’s mascot and Undead Horror Extraordinaire, ripped the house’s roof off and sneered down at him from the night sky.

“I hate you, Marshall,” the giant Eddie said. “I hate you and I think I am going to pulls your arms off of you and rip you in half.”

Eddie leaned forward and looked down with his glowing eyes, his corpse-breath black smoke as he rasped “Maybe I’ll just squeeze you until you pop.”

Marshall Whitman ran. He cleared the front door as a withered, mummified foot crashed through the porch roof and nearly squashed him flat.

He screamed and his legs pumped harder under the bloody red moon. Then, a flash of brilliant light met him as pain and pressure became all his being for a brief moment. He rolled and as he did, he felt his skin tear and heard his bones snap like firecrackers in his guts and arms and legs.

Marshall’s slow mind finally connected with the truth as his brother stumbled out of the Gabori house, hair smoking and mouth leaking blood and broken enamel as he moaned and gaped.

Marshall was dying. He stopped rolling and the massive hand that had rolled him under like some obscene human pizza reached down. Marshall felt only a tug and heard his own skin give way as Eddie chuckled and his left arm popped away from him, blood spraying then oozing. Eddie flipped it about casually and tossed it away.

Marshall prayed for unconsciousness to an unhearing God and the other arm pulled away just as easily. This time, however, Eddie sneered and lifted him off the ground, then began smacking him, whipping him with the torn away appendage until the bones just slid out. Eddie saw Marshall still lived and smiled.

Marshall saw the fingers close on his vision and felt twisting in his neck He saw his headless body hit the ground, and saw no more.

But Barry saw it all. Barry saw Eddie do it. Barry was oddly ecstatic. Barry firmly believed that everything would be OKAY, because this was just a hallucination. Barry began laughing. Eddie turned and smiled, laughed with him, then shambled over, discarding the head casually.

“That’s funny, isn’t it, Barry? Your brother was just picked apart and killed,” the corpse-giant stated matter-of-factly. “He’s gone. Totally heavy metal, man, right?”

Barry’s laughter slowed as Eddie glared and his trademark snarl curled onto the ghoulish visage of the album-art monster. Barry started to back into the house when Eddie snatched him.

Barry felt the blood rush up into his face and his legs snap in the grip of the monstrosity as it squeezed him. “Errrp” was all he said as the air was forced from his lungs and the snapping of his ribs rippled upward one at a time.

His arms did not break until his shoulders collapsed inward and forward. He felt the muscles tear away from his joints and the dots in front of his eyes swam fiercely. Then all was clear. Eddie’s mouth opened before him and then closed.

He felt the incisors sink into his upper back and chest. They did not crush or cleave, but rested a moment. He had no breath to scream.

The cracked, fissured gigantic teeth raked over him a little and came to rest on his neck, then as he was pulled between them, the massive, festering tongue rolled him about, what bones unbroken there were twisting and then giving way as he was lazily swabbed about, tasted.

Barry’s head settled between two molars and the pressure began. Slowly, agonizingly and inevitably his head began to give. Then it stopped and he sailed through the air in a spray of spittle and blood. He landed in the back room where his nightmares had begun with the appearance of Mr. Stefan Gabori.

As the roof restored itself above him, Barry Whitman knew fear and pain and immobility, then knew no more at all.

Stephan Gabori inspected himself and his former home. The smell of Barry Whitman’s burnt flesh was almost more pleasant than the accumulated stink of 4 years of neglect in the house. He stared long and hard at the Eddie figurine on the dresser before he stood up.

He was unharmed. No bruises, no scratches and no blood. It was not possible, h knew. He was not cast of iron. But unharmed he was, and he felt no exhaustion.

Barry Whitman, on the other hand, had a number of compound fractures, the number and severity of any given one indeterminate save to say that they were numerous and extreme.

He appeared to be a horrifyingly human crushed spider. Hbarry’s arms double-folded inward, as did his legs, his spine was snapped in a permanent arch and his face twisted and contorted by pain, fear and trauma. His ribs had collapsed, giving his body the appearance of a nearly empty tube of toothpaste.

His feet and hands were mangled messes. The latter were burnt boot black, and his nails had been blown, burnt or melted off some of his fingers.

Stefan left quietly. His home was long gone, and it was apparent to him that he had never been meant to live in it. He was intended to clean it out.

He was at the sidewalk when a small spark popped from a blown bulb and caught the edge of a pile of pilfered toilet paper. By the time his home was out of sight, its glow had attracted the police and the fire department.

He was not spared the gore of Marshall Whitman’s demise as he crossed Emerald again. He saw one bloody arm, then another, its bones nearly stripped of the meat that hanged in a wet mess from the car antenna it bent down with its weight. He spied the dull brown eyes under a van, where Marshall’s head had lodged.

He followed the streak of blood and rubber to the back of the Seldon Moving and Storage semi and saw the hips, legs and feet of what could have been one Marshall Whitman. He turned away and walked slowly. He knew no rush or hurry now.

At 7:03 PM a dog began to bark and, as is always the case in El Cajon, many others soon followed. They fell quiet at 7:45, but their baying had not stopped Stefan Gabori from sitting in the chair and falling into a deep sleep.

When the next day he was shaken awake by the woman who had sold him the ticket, she looked concerned. “I let you sleep here but you need to use that ticket, or you’ll be stuck here.”

Gabori looked out at a new noon and the old Greyhound, door open. The smiling face of Mr. Jenkins peered out from behind the wheel.

“Come on, kid! Let’s use that unlimited pass for something worthwhile!”

Stefan Gabori did not look back as he entered the bus. No one else clambered aboard. When the bus rolled away, the figure of a lone woman watched and then walked off into the searing dusty air and dry monotony of El Cajon.

Ermin Sanchez placed the small jar on the mantle of the family’s fireplace and drank some of his horchata. He stayed in the room during the entirety of the wake.

“They knew it could happen. Stefan knew he could have an aneurism, a stroke, whatever at any moment,” the voice said. “It’s a shame that he never got out of that place. He only needed what, a month more? When was he going to be released?”

“It’s still a shame and a waste. A year solidly awake and then one little clot? Boom. Dead,” the other replied. “Makes you think, huh?”

This kind talk continued for a few hours. Ermin nodded and smiled. He spent some time with Gabos’ ex-girlfriend Tina, reviewing former double dates and wilder times. She left alone, he noticed. Eventually all of the friends left. The teachers and the coaches filtered out and the family went off to bed one by one. Ermin was alone with his friend’s remains.

“Stefan Gabori, May 3rd, 1979 to May 3rd, 2002. Trusted Friend, Loving Son.”

He read the epitaph again and sighed, then turned out the lights and headed to bed. For some reason, he felt that Stefan was on his way.

“Okay, Gabos. Nos vemos.”


©Frank Pruett, 2005. All rights reserved.