Thursday, September 13, 2012


There are very few monsters who warrant the fear we have of them.
- Andre Gide

            He will break his neck if he tries it. If Issac rides his bicycle down this steep slope, he sees himself steering with trembling hands, hitting a rock or tree root with his tire, turning the bike on its side, and tumbling into the ravine. His friends can handle this ride, but not him. On some nights, he dreams about streaking down the hillside path, leaning over the handlebars, dodging the rocks and tree roots, and flashing across the bottom before climbing the second, shorter hillside. However, standing at the mouth of the trail and staring at the sharp drop, Issac knows he cannot do it.
            Everyone calls it The Monster. Near the city outskirts, an acre of trees borders a sprawling Pentecostal church parking lot and, behind a row of dumpsters resembling breadboxes, a narrow trail opens in the tree line. A dozen feet inside the trees, the Monster is on a tall hillside with a near vertical descent to a hollow below. In the distance, the shorter hillside has thinner underbrush and the trail is wider. It looks miles away to Issac. When his twelve-year-old eyes scan the Monster, spotting the half-hidden granite corners and thick white roots bulging out of the ground, he wonders how his friends are brave enough to try, but he cannot.
            Two days of thunderstorms floods the bottom and turns the Monster into a glistening, muddy vein. The mix of moisture and warm air blankets the woods with a thick mint odor and Issac hears rainwater dribbling from the trees around him. There is no rain, but slate color cloudbanks block the sun and bathe the world in a light shade of gray. The rainwater below is dark and still. Issac cannot tell how deep it is, but can see the water level is high. He watches others ride the Monster enough to know where certain fallen trees limbs or bushes flank the descent. At one time, he thinks studying the Monster, noting all its twists, and watching how other kids handle the ride will unlock the secret, the knowledge freeing him to join the others and plunge down and up again without fear. He studies, notes, and watches until everything he sees and feels inside convinces him it will never happen. He will never ride down the Monster. Even if, by some chance, he takes his bike down that hillside sometime, today is not it. The water is too deep. He glances at his watch, walks his bike out of the woods, and rides home to eat dinner.
            Issac sees his parents turn into monsters when they talk about money. The transformation starts with crinkling noses, narrow eyes, and deepening frowns. It accelerates with finger pointing, head whipping, and shouting. When their transformations are complete, Issac's mother is a squat crimson dragon with puffing cheeks, small flaring eyes, and fire spewing from her mouth. His father transforms into a roaring giant with bulging limbs, glistening skin, and clenching fists. As Issac watches his parents change, his loud heartbeat echoes in his ears.
            They are standing at opposing ends of the dining room table. His father Gerry leans over the table, holding himself up with his fists, rocking back and forth on the knuckles. His mother Anne flings her hands when she speaks as if she is swatting a cloud of mosquitoes. Her head hangs low, but she is glaring at Gerry and a sneer freezes her face.
            "You paid what for that truck? Fifteen hundred?"
            "There's nothing wrong with that truck! Drives good, good motor, great body!"
             "I don't care about that shit, we don't need a truck that big. And why couldn't you get a car? You have a work truck already, what do you need another pickup for? This is fuckin' stupid." Her head bobs from side to side and she spits out each word with mounting force.
            Gerry pushes himself off the table, backs up, and points at Anne. "Stupid?"
            When Issac sees his mother stomp to the corner of the table, his heartbeat surges and his eyes widen. He thinks she is attacking his father but, instead, she leans over the table edge, thrusts her face towards him, and smirks.
            "Yeah, fucking stupid. It's just another rust bucket with a big engine." She raises her arms into the air, shrugs, and steps back. "Face it, Gerry, you spend money like a kid. A big dumb fucking kid."
            When Gerry hammers the table with his fist, the dinner plates rattle and the living room lamps near Issac jump. Issac moves too, sliding back on the couch and clutching its arm.
            "I don't understand your bullshit. I'm making good money, shit's taken care of, and you wanna turn this into some bullshit about money!"
            She whips her head from side to side and leans forward. "What else would it be about?" Her shrieking voice cracks and, when she coughs, it sounds like a sandpaper strip brushing across wood.
            Gerry's face reddens. "It's about you being a bitch!" His index finger stabs the air with each word and, when he stops speaking, slaps his palms on the table, turns, and streaks out of the house.
            Anne rushes to the door, opens it, and leans outside. "A bitch? A bitch! Fuck you, Gerry!" She spins on her heel and, without looking at Issac, strides into the rear of their small home. A door slams before silence floods the house.
            The monsters are gone. In recent months, he sees the dragon and giant erupting from his parents every day. The monsters take over when they are talking about money, when they are talking about him, their own parents, or who drives knives deeper into backs. The battles between the dragon and giant are longer now, the fires hotter, fists clinching tighter, the roaring louder.
            Whether it is Anne's foot-stomping horror over money flying out the door or some sneering recital of the other's failings, the shifting battle lines do not matter. There is a simple, alarm clock consistency to their arguments. One parent leaves, usually Gerry, while the other stalks off into another part of the house. They leave Issac sitting alone in the living room or at the dining room table, staring straight ahead or else burying his face in hands wet with weeping.
            He never knows when or if the monsters will return or if it is the last time his father storms out of the house. Sometimes Issac wishes they hit him instead. If it is a stinging smack, a hard spanking, or a stiff jab busting his lips, it will not matter because he will know what to expect. The pain has a clear beginning and end, the swelling rising before falling, and bruises darkening before fading out. However, his fear of the monsters lurking in his parents never stops squeezing his nerves or making him cry.
            Today he is weeping with head in hands. However, when Issac cries, his slender body is not inhaling between each falling wave of tears but, instead, his grief chokes the tears from his eyes and leaves him gasping while spasms wrack his small frame. There is a thin layer of sweat covering the back of his neck and his stomach and shoulders alike are aching.
            He thinks the end is coming. He is certain two people cannot scream at each other this much without it soon making them unhappy and if people are unhappy, they will not stay that way for long. They will kick their troubles to the side and do whatever they can to be happy again. It is months, if not years, ago since Issac last sees his parents happy. Happiness is everything. He tastes the tears on his tongue and wonders when his father will stomp out of the house looking for happiness again. He wonders if his mother will reach for happiness first, clutching a phone and calling the police after telling him to leave, or else tossing his clothes out the front door. Issac raises his face from his wet hands asking himself how much longer will it before they turn into monsters and stay that way.
            When Issac raises his head and sees the empty driveway through a window, he wants to hop onto his bike and peddle far from here, as fast as he can. The silence after their clashes is hard to bear for Issac because the quiet confirms that his life is on shaky ground, a cold and colorless exclamation point dashing all hope. No creaking screen door announces Gerry's tearful return to kiss his wife, apologize, and hug his son. No screeching car tire screams out Anne's willingness to chase her husband down. The absence of those sounds, any sound, echoes in Issac's ears louder than any roar or scream.
            He has friends living down the street from him and decides to ride his bike there. He stands and starts moving through the house. His soft voice is calling out to his mother, but she is not in the bathroom or laundry room. Walking up to the closed bedroom door, he hears someone crying on the other side. Something muffles the weeping and Issac thinks his mother must cry as he usually does, in bed, burying his face in the pillow or sheets.  
             Standing inches from the door, Issac is staring at the doorknob and his hand hovers nearby. She whimpers like someone with a cold sniffling his or her nose. He licks his lips and lowers his head. If he opens the door, what will he say? What will she say? His mother hugs and holds him thousands of times in his twelve years, but can he hug or hold her when she cries? She might cling to him, hugging him tight, but she might shout and push him off. When the tears swelling from his eyes blur his visions, he raises his head, lowers his hand, and walks away.
            He hurries outside, climbs onto his bike, and rides away from the house. His legs are pumping, he grunts as he pushes the pedals down, and rises and falls with each revolution. Fear, anger, sadness, and confusion clouds his thinking and three blocks pass before he asks himself where he is going. He knows two brothers living three more blocks ahead and decides to ride there.
            They live with a railroad track and city landfill on each side of the small clapboard house they share with their parents. Danny is four years older than Brent is, but looks much younger. At sixteen years old, Danny is short, thin, and a large hump behind his left shoulder causes his body to slump in that direction. At ten years old, scoliosis forces doctors to insert a steel rod inside his back that bends his frame and stunts his growth. Brent, in contrast, is six inches taller, and his arrow-straight back pushes out a thickening build and broadening chest. When Issac rides into their empty driveway, he sees them standing with upside down bicycles behind the house, drops his bike on its side, and walks to them.
            "What's going on?"
            Brent shrugs and cocks his head to the right. "Not much, man. Just got done oiling our bike chains."
            Danny steps towards Issac nodding and smiling. "Yeah, we're gonna ride our bikes down the Monster. What're you doing? You wanna go with us?" When something excites Danny, like now, his lips never pause to shape syllables and every word blurs.
            However, Issac hears him, and the question snaps his head up like someone looking to dodge an oncoming ball. "Uh. Maybe." He looks down and shuffles his feet through the tall grass. "Anyone else goin'?"
            Brent's eyes narrow and he nods. "Yup, Kent said he's coming over. All his idea anyway."
            Hearing his name shatters Issac's brittle concentration. He looks back and forth between Danny and Brent, and the words are falling from his mouth when he speaks. "What? His idea, huh? How long ago did you talk to him?"
            "About a hour," Brent says. He flips his bike over, squats, and tugs on the chain. He lowers his head when he stands and a thin smile stretches his mouth. "I know you're worried he's gonna be shitty towards you." He raises his head and shrugs. "He's a shitty guy sometimes."
            Issac's mouth hangs open while he stares at Brent. He wonders what planet Brent is living on. Kent is fourteen years old and has long blonde hair, a lean frame, and a muscular upper body. Issac sees wide-eyed girls gazing at Kent, sees adult men laughing at his jokes, but his sparkling blue eyes, the half commas curling at the corners of his smile, and deep baritone voice are a sprinkling of glitter on a snake.
            "Don't worry about it, Issac, just come with us!" Danny says. When he smiles, his grin is longer on the left than the right. He sweeps his arm through the air as if he is clearing a table. "We're gonna have so much fun that Kent won't pick on you at all!"
            Issac looks down at his feet, frowns, and nods. "Yeah, I'll go with you guys, I guess."
            Brent nods, steps towards him, and pats his arm. "We'll have fun, Issac, just relax."
            Issac nods again, but he cannot relax. How can he when, if Kent is not shooting spitballs at him on the bus, he trips Issac in the school hallways and laughs? Sometimes he slaps books out of Issac's hand and smirks when others start laughing. Never calling him by his name, spitting out nerd instead, Kent's teasing cuts deepest when it is time for lunch. He sits with his friends and, instead of shooting his spitballs alone, they form a firing line of bullies following Issac wherever he goes. The three of them are twirling straws between their fingers, passing a sheet of paper to each other they tear small pieces from, roll into small beads, and pop into their mouths. If Kent stops shooting spitballs, tripping Issac in the hallway, slapping books from his hand, or hurling insults anytime they meet, he is taking things a step further and goading others to aim for the kid who never complains.
            Danny tugs on his shirt. "Are you gonna try the Monster though? Come on, man, you gotta try it." He leans towards Issac with the last few words, cocking his head, and lowering his voice.
            Issac pulls back and flutters his lips. "Go down that thing? It's full of water!"
            "Why do you think we're goin'?" Brent pulls a flat soft pack of cigarettes from his back pocket, slides out three cigarettes, and hands one to each of them. "Found these in our dad's truck. Got two more," he says. The three boys light their cigarettes and smoke fast.
            Issac sees the muddy trail, pool of water, and steep descent in his mind. "No way, man. My mom'd kill me if I came home wet and covered with mud!" He hears his shrill, cracking voice and winces from embarrassment.
            Brent arches an eyebrow and frowns. "Really? Your mom makes a big deal about that stuff?"
            The scorn dripping from Brent's voice makes him think no mother except his own cares about wet and muddy clothes. Issac squirms and waves his hands at him. "Nah, you know, she never has really, I don't know what I'm talking about." His stuttering spurs the two brothers to look at each other and smile. When Issac sees their wide grins, he tosses his head back and sighs. "Man, I can't do it anyway, that asshole Kent will be there, he'll mess with my head and I'll screw it all up." Issac sighs again and lowers his head.
            Brent snorts and flutters his lips. "For someone who picks on you so much, I don't know why you never tell on him for anything."
            Every spitball leaves him angry and down. When Issac feels a dull tap on the back of his head or a thin wet trickle when one hits his skin, the glancing blows leave no scars, but the impact shakes loose his pain, quickens his heartbeat, and closes his eyes. The spitballs and insults confuse him. Why do they want to do this to me? The spitballs and insults bruise him. Each glancing blow is a rubber stamp on his lack of worth. I mess up all the time, I deserve it, I'm all messed up. When the spitballs and insults stir his rage, as they always do, fear washes across him. If I tell on him and he gets in trouble, it'll just get worse and if I fight back, I'll be like my mom and dad and become a monster too.
            "I... don't wanna get anyone in trouble. I don't wanna tell on anyone," Issac says.
            Issac's stomach knots up when Brent smiles at his mumbling. The three of them turn their heads to look when they hear crunching gravel and sliding across the rocks. Kent appears from behind the corner of the house and walks towards them. He is wearing a white tank top, fraying blue jeans, and grins when he sees Issac.
            "Hey, loser, you decide to quit reading books and come outside? My dad says that boys who read books end up gay. I see you and believe him." He stands between Danny and Brent, looking at each of them, looking at Issac, the grin never disappearing from his face. When Issac sees Danny and Brent alike lowering their faces to hide their smiles, his heart skips a beat.
            "Quit picking on me, Kent." Issac hears himself whining again, but instead of embarrassment, the faint squeal in every word feels like pressure leaking from his body, like air seeping from a broken pipe. "I just wanna hang out."
            Kent snorts and turns towards Brent. "I rode past the church on the way here and checked shit out. The bottom is full of water." He pauses, leans his head back, and nods. "It's gonna be badass, dude."
            Brent opens his mouth to speak, but Danny tugs on Kent's shirt. "Issac says he's gonna ride down the Monster too, isn't that cool?" He bobs his head up and down when he asks his question, without any knowing smirks, belly chuckles, narrow eyes, or arching eyebrows. His loose smile and wide eyes hide nothing.
            Kent erupts with laughter. Brent turns away and picks his bike up from the ground. "Is that right? Well, I'll believe that shit when I see it. Let's go," Kent says.
            The four boys mount their bicycles and ride through their neighborhood. The houses are small A-frames, paint flaking on some, custard-color aluminum siding paneling others. There is a pair of trailers, tan doublewide models sharing a lot near the landfill. Cars are sitting in gravel driveways or else on the shoulder of the street. All older models, long streaks of rust shingle some of the cars while dents, slumping rearview mirrors, and spray-paint mark the rest.  
            The church is a mile away. While the others are streaking ahead, Issac pedals slower and keeps them in sight. The thoughts flashing across his mind cause him to tighten his handlebar grip. I've gotta do it. If I don't ride, I'll never hear the end of it. Kent'll call me chicken, pussy, coward. Everyone will know. Everyone will laugh at me.
            When he thinks about his parents, Issac leans forward and pedals faster. He imagines the look on her face when he comes home and she sees the mud covering his wet clothes. She will flap her hands like wings, shout, and grumble. If his father is there, he will wade into the battle, deepening his voice and wrinkling his brow, not to defend his son, but scar his mother with a cutting remark.
            Sweat blankets his face, but his legs never slow. He wants to stop the bike, turn around, and pedal away without saying a word, not going home, riding to any place his friends and parents cannot find. His choices are not easy, but they are simple. He can go to the church, ride down the hill, and hope everything ends okay and survive the shouting when he goes home later. On the other hand, he can stop now, turn the bike around, and go home. He sees himself sitting alone for hours in the living room and his stomach aches. When he recalls the wet smack of the spitballs hitting his head, Issac decides to keep riding towards the church.
            The church always reminds Issac of a sprawling dinosaur belly-up in a parking lot. The tall spires and rugged limestone facade are colorless. There are thick lines of tar covering cracks in the parking lot concrete and tufts of grass blooming from fractures without patching. Issac sees Danny pushing his bike behind the dumpsters. Kent and Brent are probably all ready to go. I bet Kent's complainin' about what's taking me so long. Issac stands on his bike and peddles faster to catch up.
            When he reaches the dumpsters, Issac jumps off his bike and pushes it around the corner. He hears the three of them laughing, but Kent and Brent stop when they see him. Danny stands near them smiling and looking downhill.
            "What took you so long?" Brent says.
            Issac opens his mouth to answer, but Kent slaps Brent's shoulder, points at Issac, and chuckles. "I bet he was wonderin' if he should turn around and go home!"
            Danny clutches Issac's forearm as he opens his mouth to speak and tugs him towards the hillside. When Issac sees Danny's grin, he thinks the high cheekbones and slanting smile make his face look disjointed. Danny points down the hillside.
            "Here it is, man, the Monster! Look at all that water down there!"
            Issac peers over the edge of the hill. Narrow shafts of sunlight splash across glistening strips of the trail, but the darker mud looks like paste in the shadows. While scanning for rocks and tree roots, he sees briar bushes flanking each side of a second steep drop near the end of the trail and, in the bottom, sees the sun leaving smears of light on the surface of the rain.
            "Looks deep. Betcha a foot, at least," Issac says.
            Kent squints and turns his palms up when he shrugs. "Who gives a shit?" He smiles. "You gonna do this or not?"
            He looks at each of them. Brent and Danny are staring over the edge and say nothing. Issac looks at Kent again. He is staring at Issac and nodding while his lips curl into a sneer. This is it, Issac thinks. I gotta do it. He turns and walks towards his bike.
            "Yeah, I'll do it. Who's goin' first?"
            Brent glances at Kent before pushing his bike to the edge. "I'm gonna go first," he says. He straightens his shoulders and looks at Kent again.
            "Yeah, cool man, I'll go after you then," Kent says. He turns to Issac and smirks. "You wanna go after me? Or you gonna go last, like always?"
            His constant jabbing breaks Issac down and tears swell in his eyes. Before they are flowing down his cheeks, Issac doubles over and coughs. Kent can't see me cry! When the urge passes and his hoarse hacking ends, Issac wipes his eyes and raises his head.
            "I'll go after you, Kent." He turns to Danny. "Is that okay, Danny?"
            Danny nods. "Oh yeah, man, that's okay. I want you to go. It's cool."
            Brent pumps his fist in the air, whoops, and pushes himself off the edge. Issac watches his descent while his heartbeat rattles his chest and his hands ball into tight fists. Watching him jerk the wheel from side to side, Issac thinks he looks like a toy car racing down a brown plastic track. It sounds like a flyswatter smacking glass when Brent hits the water. He climbs the shorter hill on the other side, moving slower, drops his bike, and lets out another joyful shriek.
            Kent darts to his bike, hops onto the seat, and plunges over the edge. He hunches over the handlebars, lowers his head, and tears down the trail like a slumping missile. When he reaches the water, Issac watches him split the pool of rain and zoom up the other side. Kent jumps off the bike, slaps hands with Brent, and looks across the ravine at Danny and Issac.
            "Come on, nerd, get on the bike and do it!" Kent says.
            Issac sees Brent throw his head back, hears his faint laughter, and sighs. He picks up his bike from the ground before freezing and staring downhill. I'll never make it, no way. I'm gonna get covered in mud and wet. Mom's gonna be mad.
            Brent steps to the edge of the other hillside and cups his hands around his mouth. "Hey, man, hurry up! You gonna do it or what?"
            When Danny pats him on the back, Issac whips around and looks at him. Danny's eyes soften, he smiles, and waves his hand.
            "You can do it, dude." He leans closer to Issac. "If you do it, Kent will quit pickin' on you."
            He's right, if I can ride the Monster and not wreck, Kent will leave me alone. Issac nods and pushes the bike to the edge. He peers downhill for an instant, but the steep drop spikes his heartbeat and he looks at the bike. He inhales, climbs up to the seat, and wraps his fingers around the handlebars. When he heaves himself forward, the drop tosses the contents of his stomach around and stuns him. The bike is sliding in the mud, but Issac shakes his head and steadies the wheels.
            Bumps and ridges of earth jar Issac as he moves. Gotta hit the water fast enough to carry me up the other side. He leans forward until his chest hovers inches above the handlebars and sees the front tire streaking towards a white tree root as thick as an arm. His hands jump to a different position on the handlebars, yank the wheel to the right, and the bike misses the root by centimeters.
            The bottom is coming. His eyes move from the muddy trail to the silent pool of water ahead. Gotta hit it fast, gotta hit it fast. Small patches of sunlight glimmering on the water's surface catch his eye and when his bike rolls off the last drop and lands on the water's edge, the front tire turns sideways. The impact propels Issac from his seat and he lands face first in the water. The bike is lying behind him.
            He hears the laughter when he raises his face out of the pool. As he pushes himself up on his hands, ropes of water drop from his nose, chin, hair, and chest. The water is cold, but the laughter is colder. Brent and Kent are laughing hard, choking, and the chuckles sound like belching car exhaust pipes. When he looks up at the two of them, Issac sees Kent draping an arm over Brent's shoulder and both boys are doubling over.
            They are still laughing, but say nothing when Issac stands and walks over to his bike. Issac picks the bike off the ground, looks at the mud caking his wet clothes, and gazes at the start of the trail. Danny is standing near the edge. He is not smiling. He is looking at Issac, his chin against his chest, and his lips curling into a crooked frown. In the late afternoon light, Issac thinks he sees Danny's gleaming, watering eyes, but wonders if it is a trick of the light. What do I do? What do I say? The downhill ride and sudden crash stirs his adrenalin, but the fading rush and laughter from above deflates him and jumbles his thoughts. He stares at the ground, his hands and knees twitching, his body cold.
            "Hey, loser, once you're done standin' there being a pussy, get outta the way so Danny can go!"
            Kent's laughter sharpens his dull barbs into spears spitting from his mouth. When Issac looks to the top of the smaller hill, Brent is knocking clumps of mud off his bike, but Kent is standing inches from the edge. He spreads his legs apart and clutches his left arm against his stomach. He slouches forward, pointing at Issac with his right hand, and his laughing squeals like repeating horn blasts.
            While tears rise in his eyes, Issac sees Kent transform into a thin, rabid boar. He sees Kent as a bleeding monster, covering a stomach wound to stem the bile spilling from within. His spreading legs are poising to charge and his laughs are hungry roars. When Issac pictures Kent rushing downhill towards him, his roaring mouth lunging to devour him, he wants to run far away.
            The larger hill flattens twenty yards to the north and another trail starts there. After looking a final time at the other boys, Issac says nothing and pushes his bike through the mud, away from the Monster, until he reaches the second trail. He steps a few additional feet before hearing Kent's distant shouting.
            "See ya later, pussy! Go home to mommy and daddy! My dad is right about nerds like you!"
            Issac says nothing and does not look back. He wants to go home or go away. He wants to be anywhere but here. He cannot bear absorbing another insult and never wants to see the Monster again. I almost had it but I messed it all up. I suck. He pushes his bike until he reaches the parking lot and, when he climbs onto the seat and starts pedaling, his stiff muscles and aching body cause him to wince.
            There is nowhere to go except home. Maybe his father's truck will be in the driveway when he gets there, the house will be quiet, and no one will cry or scream again tonight. Or, instead, the truck will be gone, and his mother will either be crying still in her bedroom or else railing against his father while vacuuming the carpet. He knows what he wants to happen when he coasts up to his house. When he thinks about it, he sees his father's truck outside and the front door wide open. He hears the short screech of the screen door swinging open and sees his mother sitting at one end of their small dining table. His father is at the other end and both parents are smiling. He smiles when they welcome him to dinner and sits down. The same fantasy runs through Issac's thoughts each time this happens, but it never digs in and sprouts into hope. He knows better. He sees his father stepping through the door before bedtime tonight, his head hanging low, half-sneering, avoiding his mother's eyes. He knows she will walk around him, frowning by more than a half, eyeing him like someone blocking her way in a grocery aisle. They will sleep together and tomorrow the three of them will pretend as if it never happens until the next time it happens.
            He thinks nothing waiting for him at home will be as bad as the Monster. At least I'll be home and no one will call me names. I'll watch TV or read until supper. The shouting mother and father is better than standing at the base of a steep hill, mud and water covering the length of your body, insults raining from above. It is better than digging up the courage to do something you fear, steering past each near brush with failure, only to fly off the rails feet away from the finish line, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. He will see each of the boys tomorrow Kent will be leaning forward to shoot spitballs at him and if Brent and Danny see it, they will grin and turn their heads away. Crying or screaming, slamming doors or pointing fingers, he is riding his bike home and ready to take his chances there.
            When the whistling twilight breeze brushes against his wet clothes, it feels like hundreds of feather tips tickling his skin. He rides past the single level homes in his neighborhood, vivid orange and yellow spheres of light spilling from their windows and doorways like firelight streaming from the mouth of a cave. As he nears his house, he sees his father's truck sitting in its usual place and sighs. Today is not the end.
            Issac rolls into the driveway dragging his feet across the gravel, stops, and leans his bike against a tree. When he looks at the house, slanting sheets of yellow light spill from the open windows, the front door is open, and he hears the roaring inside. He cannot hear what they are saying. The words are funneling out of the windows and door like flaming gusts of sound singeing his ears. He cannot walk inside or get on his bike and ride off. He stands where the driveway meets the front yard weeping and presses his palms against his ears when he hears their screaming.
            The screen door flies open and Gerry streaks out, steps off the porch, and walks towards his truck. He stops walking when he sees Issac standing in his path. Issac watches his father's frown disappear, back stiffen, and eyes widen before he stops moving. His eyes are blinking fast but he says nothing. His only child is weeping ten feet in front of him and he is not rushing to comfort him. Why doesn't he hug me? Issac shakes his head, the tears fall faster, and sobs whiplash his shivering body.
            When he opens his squinting eyes and wipes away the tears, he sees his father's hand extending towards him. Gerry is holding it out a few inches, palm up, and fingers spreading. The tears are still streaming down his face, but Issac sees how his father cocks his head to one side and another frown is twisting his lips. Issac raises a trembling hand into the air, palm up, and nods.
            Gerry stretches his arm a little more, but when he does, his eyes fall and a long sigh draws his body back like an arrow. When he exhales, he shakes his head.
            "I'm sorry, Issac. It'll be all right later. I gotta go."
            He talks fast and does not look at Issac when he speaks. When he finishes, Gerry turns on his heel, stomps over to his truck, and spins the tires before driving away. Issac watches his father's truck speed down the street and cries harder than ever before when he cannot see it. He hears the screen door opening again and turns his head to look. His mother runs down the steps and rushes towards him, but stops centimeters away from his body. She holds her head down and her shoulders are slumping.
            "I'm sorry, Issac. It isn't right." She raises her head, looks at Issac, and sniffles. She is crying too and Issac steps towards her and wraps his arms around her waist. Anne closes her eyes tight, smiles, and wraps her arms around Issac's shoulders.  
            Hours later, after Issac crawls into his bed, he hears the screen door slam shut. They are shouting again within three minutes and, though his bedroom door muffles their words, Issac hears the fire-breathing hatred fueling each sentence and pulls the blanket over his mouth. Today is not the end of everything, but maybe tomorrow is the day. He thinks of his father's extending hand, his mother's tight hug and knows it does not matter. The closeness always comes too late, long after tears are flowing and the shouting snaps his heart in two. He thinks of Brent's smile when Kent is hurling down insults on him and knows riding a bike trail without wrecking does not matter. The insults will never stop even if he rides every bike trail in the world without crashing and, even if his parents hug him a million times, it will never matter when the monsters come again.