Little John’s dog is barking at me, frothing mad, but kind of whining too. Little John says he’s a good barometer for telling whether people are good or bad. He never had any truck with me before today, but I just got back from a trip with my parents, and I haven’t quite felt like myself since.
Little John looks at me with his beautiful brown eyes, all gone wild with fear, unsure of what’s going on, frozen to mine.
“He’s afraid I’m going to eat him,” I explain.
“Why would you say that?” he manages, but it’s barely a whimper.
I step closer to Little John. Digger backs up, cowering, but he doesn’t leave the room, just sort of scampers off into a corner.
“I can just tell,” I say. I step towards Little John, poor Little John. The love of my life, all sixteen years of it anyway. My hand reaches out for his face and he flinches involuntarily, but his eyes have that sort of glazed look that tells me it would be pretty darn hard for him to resist my touch, and my heart breaks just a little.
“I need to go,” I tell him.
“No, wait…” He grabs my hand and places it on his beating heart. His incredibly warm, incredibly strong beating heart. It thrashes around inside his chest like a thunderstorm in a wheat field, and I can feel his hot breath against my skin, can taste the metal in his sweat. I hold my breath, close my eyes, and turn away, knowing that if I don’t, Little John won’t be Little John anymore, and I’m not sure if the little me that’s still left of me can quite handle that yet. The thought breaks my heart just a little more. But the feeling quickly fades away like a shallow echo. A heaviness extending from my mouth to my hips seems to drag my mind into my jaw. My mouth waters and I find my hips jutting forward, the curve of my spine feeling delicious in a way that makes me want to bend it impossibly.
Little John grabs my arm and turns me to him, pulls me inside his arms so I’m just this little lump of Madeleine cocooned in throbbing flesh. It causes a burning ache in my chest that sears straight through to my toes, and my head goes hollow before lighting up like a propane lantern, only blue, and I’m so hungry, not food hungry, but howl to the moon hungry, like a great wind has swept through me and left me cold, starved, and lonely, and Little John has just what I need to fix me.
I open my eyes, my head scrunched to the side of his chest. His hug is telling me not to go; my vision is tinged blue. Blood courses through my skull so hot it’s cold, and the top of my mouth feels funny but in a really good way, and I know I need to get out now or else, and I love Little John. My love for him is as deep as the sky is wide, and I couldn’t stand it if I hurt him.
“I’m not feeling well, Little John…” I say, but as the words trail off my lips, I know full well that I am lying. It does feel good, too good, and it scares me. I feel better than ever and I don’t want to stop. I breathe deeply, tasting his skin through his shirt. I take a tentative swipe with my tongue. My mind spins and my heart goes heavy before lifting up in some strange cresting ecstasy. Then that last little part of me, the one that loves Little John so big, so much more than anything else, pushes him away. I am strong. I marvel at my strength. At my resolve. I am so strong. I can feel every muscle rippling over bone. And it’s like time has stopped. I lift up my hand and turn it, appreciating its strength and beauty. Everything grows quiet like the air has been sucked out of the room. Even Digger has grown completely quiet. Then just as quickly, there’s this loud whooshing followed by a cupped explosion, like someone’s lit a Coleman lantern in my skull.
I look to Little John, feel a little growl in my throat growing. He’s desperate and confused and grabs me. I can no longer keep myself from looking into him in a way that makes me feel like my gaze is ripping his eyes clean out of their sockets. His suffering and confusion and love all mix together sweetly in a beautiful storm of emotion. I see the light in his eyes. I see the light into his eyes. I put those lights there. They vibrate blue, glowing like two little embers in a pile of ash set neatly on his skull. Little John’s face strains and he says words that are meant to make me stay but I can’t hear them, they sound watery and submerged. I can hear the pounding of his heart so close to mine. I can feel my own beating in my tongue, and it sounds strange, like it’s been plugged into a radio or has grown an extra chamber.
He’s wondering if I can hear him or if I have fallen into some kind of spell. Which of course I have, but not the kind he means. Little John’s wondering if I am having an epileptic fit. I can feel these thoughts, and they arouse in me something quite the opposite of sympathy. The more his face grows concerned, the more I want to eat it. A low growl rumbles from deep within me and I wonder if it’s subsonic. In any case, Digger falls to the ground.
Everything grows quiet again, and time slows to a pour of cold maple syrup. The embers in Little John’s eyes explode into white-hot flame, drowning out his face. His skin grows transparent, revealing a bright white-blue network of vessels screaming across his brain, trailing down to his sluggishly beating heart, which I can now see quite clearly. It’s as if his ribcage has been cracked wide open just for me. In this thick slowed silence I imagine the sound of it. Ka-thump. Ka-thump. Ka-thump.
I barely breathe. Saliva overfills my mouth, drips down my chin.
I love you so much, Little John. Your heart is so big and wide and powerful in its impossibly slow lurching way.
Then, out of the silence, my eyes make the sound come, and each warped ka-thump is a slowed-down squeal of bent metal all swimming in bass, submerged beneath water thick as blood and just as bright.
How can the sound of bass be so bright, Little John? And how’d your heart get so slow?
I feel a hot searing pinch on my tongue, then another. Blood fills my mouth. The syrupy slow motion of time speeds up to something resembling normal. I feel his breath in my mouth and his heart in my hands. The warmth of his eyes spilling into mine. Everything is so, so amplified. I can even feel the movement of Digger, all passed out in the corner. Then time fast-forwards as if to catch up and I am flying at his throat and his skin is like that of a sweet apple, easily pierced and so satisfying. I pull him into me and crawl inside his light in a blast of sweet heat. I swoon into his hammering heart and flow through his racing mind. He’s caught, enthralled, ecstatic, yet a thought shimmers through me: Why?
And the me inside me that is not me responds, a snaking daggered thing, through my flesh: The want hearts what the want hearts.
I float to the surface: I love you, Little John.
I’m in my room. My eyes are dry, parched. I rub them. I’m wearing a little two-piece night set. Boy-cut shorts and a camisole. Pink and smelling of dryer sheets. The curtains of my bedroom window drift slow as molasses, buffeted by some strange wind. I get up from my bed, push the curtains aside to look out my window. The sky is dark although it’s still day and the sky sounds like a procession of cars thundering past my window. It begins to pour in a way that ka-thumps across the roof and ground, unsettling and familiar, oddly exhilarating even. Little John. Oh no, Little John! I hear my mother downstairs banging around the kitchen, making dinner. Had it all been a dream?
The rain comes down harder in more pronounced ka-thumps. I stretch my body into a series of generous, sinewy pops. I inhale deeply the musk of wet street. The sky grows so dark that the streetlamps come on and the little zinging sound they make ripples through me, creating a pleasant heaviness in my lower back. My head grows light, my skin prickles. I can’t seem to take enough of the rain-drenched air in. I draw air into my lungs so deeply they feel like they’ll bleed if I go any deeper. I let my breath out slowly in a hiss of steam.
The want hearts what the want hearts, Maddie.
I feel my eyes roll hotly into the back of my skull. I feel the cold delicious slide of sideways rain down my face, my neck. I let it saturate my hair, my clothing. The muscles of my belly grow hard. I slam my pelvis into the window frame and laugh.
What am I doing?
You’re wanting it. You’re wanting it so badly, Maddie.
I bend back on my tippy toes, until my spine is as bent back as it can get. I should be toppling over but I am not. My head arches back, my wet hair dangling in the air. My jaw drops open, stretches wide with twin pops. My wet camisole stretches up, clinging to my ribcage, exposing my stomach to the delicious cold sluice of sideways rain. My heart pounds to the rain’s unrelenting hammer.
What am I wanting?
Ka-thump. Ka-thump. Ka-thump.
Want hearts. The Want hearts. The Want hearts what the Want hearts . . .
I rise even further on my tippy toes, stretching up to the ceiling until finally I’m weightless. I can feel a moan growing inside me. A nagging, building thing of weightless weight, the me inside me that’s not me stretching itself wide. I wonder if the neighbor boy across the way is looking. I growl. It feels good to growl. It feels good to think about the neighbor boy. I roll my eyes back to the front of my head and push my head forward. Indeed, I’m not touching the floor. I laugh. How could I not. I feel good, real good.
Neighbor Boy’s light is on but there’s no tell-tale shadow that he’s peeping. What would he think of Me-Maddie now? Half-crazed, completely drenched, writhing in the air as I snap and growl.
Not so proper now, are we, Maddie?
No. Proper does not describe the way I feel.
I look down at the carpet below my feet. It’s darkened with rain. I give my head a tentative turn towards my bedroom door and my body spins slowly in that direction. I turn my head the other way and the same thing happens in the other direction. I imagine myself floating over to my bed and my body follows. Nice. I look up to the ceiling and imagine my forehead against the ceiling, and just like that, it is. I hear a car pull out of the neighbor’s driveway. I float back over to my window to investigate. The thought of floating over to Neighbor Boy’s window fills my skull with light, makes my wet clothes heavy and thick against my skin. A shimmering cast of subtle light wavers across the window frame.
“Come to your window, Neighbor Boy,” I say. His name is Zack, but I always call him Neighbor Boy. I know that sometimes he peeps; it gives me a small thrill to let him. I never let him see anything more than he would if I was in a bikini, but I know it excites him terribly anyway. It makes me feel like I have some kind of weird superpower over him, like when I wear tight tops and catch men that are old enough to be my father paying too much attention to me, only less creepy.
The Want hearts, Maddie! The Want needs!
“I said come here, Neighbor Boy!” I demand, this time picturing his silhouette against the lit fabric of his curtains. My heart lurches forward in my chest, strangely, making my breath go shallow. My vision pulses blue. And like that, his form materializes like a large insect against the steamy glass of a hothouse wall.
I drop to the ground. Confused. Hurt. Aching. Pleasantly. Aching. Not so pleasantly. The rain stops. I curl up in a ball, my arms between my legs, and rock. I take a deep breath. Look over to my door. Thank god it’s locked.
“Honey! Dinner’s ready! Chop chop!”
“I’ll be down in a minute!”
“Hey, do you have the dog in there? I heard growling and I can’t find him anywhere.”
“No. No Cooter here!” I yell back.
“Are you okay in there? You sound weird.”
“Well, okay. That dog will be the death of me, I swear.”
I wait to get up until I hear her footsteps recede down the stairs. I hear my father saying something to my mother in a concerned voice, but I can’t make out the muffled words. I crawl over to the window and inconspicuously peek out to see if Neighbor Boy is still there. He is. My stomach rumbles. I crawl over to my vanity, the feel of carpet gnashing against my knees completely thrilling. I could spend hours crawling on my knees back and forth, it feels so good.
I hear my father laughing downstairs.
Right. Dinner. I assess myself in the vanity mirror. I actually look really good except for being completely soaked. Even that is appealing, but my parents will take me to the loony bin if I come down looking like that. Besides, my camisole is completely soaked, and I don’t want my father pretending not to look at my breasts through the semi-transparent cloth. Not that he’s pervy or anything, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve become more aware of how he looks at me. There are days where he avoids my gaze, even looking at me, and those are the days I usually wear something special for Little John.
Oh Little John! Poor Little John! Are you okay? Am I going mad?
I wait for the little voice with the large needs to answer.
But there’s nothing and this makes me a little sad. I strip off my wet clothes and throw on a T-shirt dress, wrap my hair in a towel. I look amazing. Like really amazing. My skin is almost iridescent. I rush downstairs, hungry, but as soon as I get to the lower landing I remember that I forgot my phone upstairs. I rush upstairs to snatch my phone off my bed and catch sight of Neighbor Boy in his window, his curtains pushed aside, looking straight at me. Though he’s clear across the street, I swear I detect a little glint in his eyes. It makes my blood rush and I catch a little glimmer of Want stir inside me.
“Don’t go far, Neighbor Boy. I’ll see you later,” I whisper.
He stays frozen in the window, the curtains billowing around him, caught in some strange slow wind.
I take the steps two at a time, bounce into the kitchen. Mother is placing our dinner on plates: steak, mashed potatoes and gravy, grilled asparagus. My mouth waters. I realize I haven’t eaten yet today. Food. I haven’t eaten food. Boyfriend’s face, check. Food, no check. I giggle to myself, then feel horrible about it, then giggle again.
“What are you laughing at, Honey?”
“Here, take these.” She hands me plates of food for me and my father.
“Thank you.” The food smells wonderful and my stomach growls extremely loud on the way into the dining room.
Dad looks up from the book he’s reading. “Was that you?”
I giggle uncontrollably.
He laughs. “I thought for a second it was that damn dog of yours.”
My smile falters before I can catch it. He notices. “Now, now, it’s okay. I’m sure he’s fine. Probably just ran off to hump the neighbor’s cat or something.”
We both have a good laugh. I hand Dad his food. Cooter doesn’t know he’s a dog and has been dragged off too many cats to count. The cats don’t seem to mind much, but sometimes their owners do. We have a special Super Soaker squirt gun for such occasions.
“You know how he hates getting wet. He probably squeezed through the gate and got stuck under some porch when it started raining. He’ll come home. You’ll see.”
I wait for Mom before I sit down. She comes in with her plate in one hand, three cream sodas in the other.
We sit. Dad pops the tops of the sodas off with the opener on his keychain.
“They’re twist-top, Dad,” I say. But I know he knows, he just likes using his keychain doohickey. He hands me a soda. I thank him and pass it to Mom. He hands me another and I immediately take a huge gulp. It tastes amazing!
“Did they change the formula on this? It tastes incredible. So rich and thick and amazing! Like there’s a party in my mouth. Like I can taste cake and ice cream and everyone laughing and having a good time–like what that would taste like if you could taste such a thing.”
Mom takes a sip, looks over at my dad. “It’s good, Honey, but it tastes like it always does.”
Dad gives me an over-interested look, just a glint of a smile in his eyes. “Are you stoned, Honey?”
“No! I’m just really hungry, that’s all.” I try to hide my enthusiasm for the food in front of me, but I doubt I’m doing a very good job. I hoover up the mashed potatoes and gravy to curious glances between my mother and father.
“Honey, you using a new makeup?” Mom asks. “Your skin looks amazing. I’ll have to get me some of what you’re having.”
“I’m not wearing makeup!”
“Seriously?! Must’ve been the hot springs.” She gapes at me. “That’s fantastic. I’ll have to go in next time. Say, it was really great having Logan camp with us. You think he’ll want to tag along for another trip? Your father and I were thinking of going back up in a couple weeks. They just had a cancellation on a cabin, and I don’t know. I just can’t get that place out of my mind.”
Logan is my best friend. They don’t worry about him coming over. I think they think he’s gay, so they’re not worried about us hanging out alone. But maybe they just trust me. Or maybe they don’t care. Anyhoo, Logan isn’t gay but he’s like my brother. I get undressed in front of him and it’s no big deal. Maybe he is gay. Doesn’t really matter, since Little John is my boyfriend. Or was. I feel my smile fading. I cut into my steak; blood gushes out into my asparagus. It smells divine. I’m almost frozen in delight. I can feel my muscles start to throb and my mouth feels funny.
“Oh, I’m sorry, Honey. I thought I cooked yours longer than that. I know you like yours a little more on the done side. I can put it back in the pan real quick.” Mom goes to grab my plate but I pull it away.
Dad looks up from his book. “Honey, did you just growl at your mother?”
“It’s great, Mom. I feel like trying something new. It smells wonderful. It’s FINE.”
“I would check your temperature if you didn’t look so damn robust. These steaks really are great.”
“The butcher has a crush on your mother. True story.” He nods at Mom, then goes back to reading.
I tear into the steak like there’s no tomorrow. “Seriously, Mom. This tastes so amazing. It’s like salty sunshine in my mouth. I can’t believe I ever ate it any other way. Just incredible.”
Mom looks at me like I’m high, but I don’t let that slow me down. I keep shoveling the blood drenched-meat into my mouth.
“Can you believe that storm?” Mom says. “I got stuck in the mall for like two hours waiting for it to let up but it never did.”
This makes both me and my dad smirk. It doesn’t take a storm to get her stuck in a mall for a couple hours.
The phone rings, and my mom goes into the kitchen to answer it. Can you believe that? We still have a landline. I can’t hear what she’s saying, but she sounds concerned. She hangs up. Comes back, her face looks grave.
“That was Sharon. She said she came home and found blood all over the house. She can’t find John or their dog. Cops are over. Have you talked to him today? Because if you have, you need to call her. I told her I would ask you.”
“No, I haven’t seen him or talked to him. I just sat around the house and read all day. You know, we got in a fight before we left to go camping, and we haven’t really had the chance to make up yet.” I barely suppress a little giggle trying to wriggle out.
“Well, I’m sorry to hear that, Honey. I’m sure he’s fine. Dog probably dragged in some roadkill, then took off before he got in any trouble.”
My dad grunts, “Damn dogs! There’s something in the air. Driving everything crazy. I can feel it.” He goes back to reading.
I wolf down the rest of my steak, then my blood-soaked asparagus. I can feel the muscles of my stomach and spine tighten pleasurably. My thoughts drift to Neighbor Boy. I begin to plan my exit strategy.
“You guys have any plans tonight?” I ask.
“Actually, me and your mother were going to a friend’s birthday party. I’m sure you would find it extremely boring, but you’re more than welcome to come.”
“Honey, would you like us to stay? Are you worried about John?”
“No, no. Go. Please. I’m just going to hang out around here. Maybe have Logan over.”
Yesssss. Have Logan. The Want heartssss.
“Well, very well then. Tell him ‘hi’ for us. And ask him if he wants to go camping again in a couple weeks.”
I clean up our plates and do everything I can to get them out the door. The minute I hear their car pull out of the driveway, I bolt up the stairs on all fours. Is he still in the window? After all this time? I throw open my door and crawl to the window. His light is on but he’s not there. I imagine him coming to the window, looking out for me. Waiting. But he’s not there. I feel a twinge of Want sort of on the edges but that’s it.
“Well, come on! What do you want?! Where are you?”
I flop on my bed. Can see myself in the vanity mirror. All of a sudden, I’m thinking I’m not looking too hot. In fact, what the hell were we thinking? I look horrible. I scamper over to the vanity and slather my face with makeup. That failing, I crawl back over to my bed, pull a piece of gum out of my nightstand and chew vigorously. Too vigorously. I accidentally bite down on my tongue and taste blood. Ouch!
Not really thinking, I catch myself smiling. My thoughts drift to Logan. Not gay Logan. Like a brother Logan. At the hot springs, too, Logan. I wonder if he’s feeling different too. But I can’t keep a train of thought. I scamper over to my dresser and pull a large pink bouncy ball out of a drawer and crawl back to the bed. I smack my bloody gum loudly. Bounce the ball against the wall and back to me. Again. And again. And again.
I throw the ball even harder.
My thoughts drift back to Logan once more. Pretty Logan. Hot-blooded Logan. Not my brother Logan. Logan. Logan. Logan.
I feel the warmth spread within me, stretching its limbs, making my back arch deliciously into the bed. My head flops back, my eyes roll back into my skull, my brain immerses in light. My jaw strains open with two little pops. And I want to think not again but I very much want it again. Want it. Wanting it. Wanting Want so badly. Wanting Logan. Sweet tender Logan. Not my brother Logan.
“The Want hearts.”
“The Want hearts what the Want hearts!”
My body shudders and the light strobes throughout me in shivering ecstasy, like a million downy feathers stroked across my inside skin. I convulse, screaming his name inside me, LOGAN! Then everything explodes into blackness.
From the blackness, my room slowly surfaces. I’m floating. Just inches above my bed but I’m doing it. I slowly turn my head to the right and he’s there. Sweet Logan. His skin glows like a black light and there’s something inside his eyes. Something hungry. Something other. He has a Want, too. I can see it. I can feel it. His Want wants my Want and I want him. Now. A low rumble permeates the room. I close my eyes and breathe the scent of him deep inside me. I open my eyes, although I don’t need to to know that he’s hovering directly over me. I feel his breath mingle with mine. I taste him. Feel him in the millions of hairs standing on end across my flesh. I want to drink in his strange fire with my eyes. I want to swallow his tongue and feels his bones pop, his skin snap.
But it is different this time. There’s no sharp pain in my tongue. Time does not slow to molasses. His skull doesn’t explode into a lantern of blood-vesseled light. His chest doesn’t crack open for me. Time does not speed up and I do not fly at his neck like a blood-crazed monster. An arc of electricity dances between our lips as they lock. We storm around each other like lovers locked in a whirlwind, both participants and observers at the same time. Spinning faster and faster until our lights collide in a great explosion of darkness and we fall, fall, fall, into a silky blackness where there is no Maddie or Logan or Little John or Cooter or Digger. Just our Wants, happily intertwined with each other.
I turn to Logan. “I don’t think we can stay here.”
“What do you mean? It’s wonderful here.”
“There’s something inside me. Something wrong. Something that needs. I thought it was the Want. I don’t know. I feel it squirming around inside. I feel, I need.”
“Then say it.”
“I need him.”
“Oh, that. Sweet Maddie. You shall have all of the Neighbor Boys you want. We both shall. Don’t you see? Our Wants want but our Needs need.”
Out of the silky blackness, a glowing gold square emerges. And within that glowing gold square, a shadow emerges. And from within that shadow, a boy emerges with embers burning light in his eyes. Like Little John but not Little John.
Our mouths water and our tongues sting. Time slows cold.
Our Needs need.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Nikki Guerlain prowls the Pacific Northwest looking for a good time and a bit of kibble. She writes stories like she chases squirrels–with deep lust and intense vigor. Her debut novel Machine Gun Vacation is forthcoming from Thunderdome Press. It’s pretty much the cat’s meow.