They started with darts because they could, because Mom and Dad were gone again, off selling clouds to mountains that didn’t need them.
I thought things might be different this time, but my mind liked to get stoned on hope and abstinence, like a castrated preacher with a flask full of clear.
The air inside the barn hung thick and hairy and I was frightened again. The ground lay covered in slimy chicken shit matted with white-gray feathers, even though we’d never owned chickens or any other kind of fowl.
One brother wore a menacing look, a tarantula face. Another brother kept morphing into different versions of an angry orangutan, his wing span something I kept an eye on.
The first dart hit me in the thigh, the pain like eating a cactus. There should have been seepage, but our family only bled dust.
A fleet of my other brothers stood behind tarantula and orangutan like a troupe of horny inmates. Their faces were made of scaly bark, their eyes, only sockets.
They kept coming in and out of focus because I was a roulette wheel tied prostrate to a swirling wooden disc. Upside down, the world felt momentarily safer, the way breathing can when you’re dead but don’t know it.
Soon the darts came flying in pairs and threes. My brothers were good at aiming, be it fists or rifle, but I was better at spinning, and so most of the darts missed their target, though one did pierce my ear, stuck there in my lobe like an exotic African earring.
We had a sister once, at least I think we did. There used to be a few photographs of a six-year-old girl around the house. There used to be a pink room that smelled like cotton candy. I found a frilly little girl’s dress once back by the wood chipper. It might have been her size, or perhaps the wind blew it there. It’s terrible to say, but I’m glad she’s not around anymore, my maybe Sis. There are far too many forms of torture.
Soon as I think this, I’m tied to a chair instead of a wheel and I’m blindfolded, which I guess is a blessing. Or not.
Each brother takes turns bending words into my ear, sharing their foul secrets. I’d tell you what they are but then they wouldn’t be secret. I can share this though: my brothers have done hideous things. But I guess we all have, at one time or another.
Listening, as they whisper their deeds into my soupy skull, is like being forced to watch a different grainy snuff film every thirty seconds, real blood exploding against walls and clocks and countertops. From fear, the chair I’m sitting in keeps biting me on the ass. My legs run away from me, tripping on tree root after tree root.
I remember we had pets once, dogs and a couple of cats who kept losing their paws, then whole legs. Mom said we were broke, busted, that food was scarce. For a few weeks around that time, our meals were peculiar. And then one day, the pets were all gone for good.
Sometimes Mom and Dad don’t come back from their trips and they send their shadows as surrogates instead. That arrangement might seem less perilous for a boy like me, but then some shadows yield butcher knives and tire irons, garrotes and chainsaws. Shadows—you gotta watch out for them, they’re tricky motherfuckers, and anything but flat.
Toward the end of the evening, my brothers light my hair on fire. They rip out my toe nails with their fangs. They tape my eyelids open and stab my pupils thousands of times with a bent paperclip, and then when that’s not satisfactory, they use an ice pick. Dust flies everywhere until everyone is choking on the itchy plumes.
I wish I could hold a grudge the way the moon does, but what good would that do? We all have choices, though not the very first one, the one that counts. Someone else gets to make that decision for us, and so we carry on as best we can.
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