“The Shortcut”

noon-in-the-woods
Noon in the Woods – Efim Volkov

Originally published in January 2013 in issue 11 of a once-prolific but now-defunct publication called The Rusty Nail. This was my first officially-published work of fiction, and I was still quite unfamiliar with the indie-lit community. This work is based on a true story, and numerous big fat lies.

“The Shortcut”

We were eating lunch, not yet sure what to do on our day off from school, when I told Kevin about the shortcut.  According to what Chicky Silverman told me on the bus the previous Friday afternoon, his older brothers found a shortcut to Madonna Heights, the notorious boarding school for bad teenage girls, and it led to a point at the back of the campus where there were no fences or security.

Everyone at school knew about Madonna Heights, but nobody ever seemed to be closer than three degrees from it.  All the stories we heard were about a cousin’s friend’s cousin, or some kid from summer camp’s aunt’s stepdaughter.  No families from our town ever sent their troublesome daughters there, that’s for sure.

Apparently, Madonna Heights was run by deranged, hard-ass nuns, even though it wasn’t technically a Catholic school, and those nuns were assisted by a staff of belligerent crackheads.  Allegedly, each girl got one uniform that she could wash just once a month.  Supposedly, the girls’ meals consisted of two cans of cat food a day, although if a girl was exceptionally well-behaved for a whole week and then went to church on Sunday morning, she might get a third can of cat food on Sunday night.  Reportedly, the white staffers called all the black girls monkey-fuckers and the black staffers called all the white girls cracker-ass cunts.  Ostensibly, all the girls were medicated within an inch of their lives, and every night the staffers forced them at knifepoint to do all kinds of lesbian sex stuff.  Rumor had it that several girls died every year when nuns hid rat poison in their cat food, but those deaths were made to look like suicides or drug overdoses.

Chicky also told me, and I foolishly told Kevin, that when Chicky’s older brothers found that shortcut they met a couple of Madonna Heights girls who later gave them blow jobs behind the softball dugouts.  Even my gullible 13 year-old self, who believed all those third-hand tales of cat food meals and knifepoint orgies, had a hunch that those blow jobs never really happened.  But Kevin was much further into puberty than I was at the time.  His cock was much beefier than my pinky-prick, and his pubes were far thicker and darker than my translucent peach fuzz, even though he was only an inch taller and I was six months older.  So after hearing about Chicky’s brothers’ purported blow jobs, Kevin smirked and his eyes gleamed like I just bought him a brand new dirtbike.  Then he insisted we take the Madonna Heights shortcut as soon as we finished our Hi-C and frozen pizza squares.

My pinky-prick had never experienced an orgasm yet, and I had no idea what I would’ve done if some delinquent girl offered to blow me behind the softball dugout.  But I never defied Kevin, so I said fine, we’ll go.

It was a cloudless Columbus Day, just warm and sunny enough for T-shirts, shorts and baseball caps.  Kevin and I both sported nearly-identical Islanders caps with orange letters on a blue background, along with nearly-identical gray Stussy T-shirts, light blue jean shorts, and black Adidas Sambas.  From any further than 20 feet away we would’ve looked like the exact same white suburban teenage dork.

I told my grandma we were going to the park, then Kevin and I snuck off to my across-the-street neighbors’ backyard.  We hopped over the black vinyl-coated chain link fence at the property border and hiked up a small, steep acre of woods, crunching through the bed of dead maple leaves, dried polly-noses and fallen pine needles.  When we came across a patch of poison ivy we raised our feet high above it like it was a hurdle, since we somehow fell under the impression that the plant’s itchy toxins could infect us not just by direct contact but also by leaping several inches into the air and latching onto our shins.

A minute later we got to Essex Court, an upper-middle-class cul-de-sac which was nothing but a grassy hill only three years earlier, back when the new wave of late ’80s development sprouted around the original postwar suburbs.  Some of the homes on the street were so new they didn’t even have owners yet.  The whole block was a parade of ersatz post-modern architecture where ranches stretched out alongside modest split-levels and three-story behemoths, all painted in bold shades of grayish blue, pinkish tan, brownish white and purplish red, and constructed with aggressive asymmetry.  Some had roofs like upside-down check marks; some had L-shaped 2-car garages; others had lopsided V-shaped porches that thrust themselves into the middle of the front lawn.

We headed for house #22, as per Chicky’s directions, and on our way there we saw two girls bouncing around the street on neon pink pogo-balls.  As we approached, I recognized the girl closest to us as Melanie Sternbach.  She was two years younger than us and not nearly as mature as she thought she was, so normally I would’ve avoided her company at all costs.  But I quickly recognized her playmate as Jessica Weinroth, object of my affection since 3rd grade, with her electric yellow braces and galaxy of Jewish freckles, like a highlighter and exclamation points for her already vivid smile.  I knew at that moment that Kevin had no interest in talking to any girls who weren’t likely to blow him anytime soon, but I stopped to say hi to Jessica anyway.

The girls kept on pogo-balling; they must have been up to like 200 bounces in a row.  Jessica asked what we were up to but before I could come up with a good lie, Kevin told her the embarrassing truth, or at least what he truly, embarrassingly believed would be the truth.  He said it like it should’ve impressed the girls- deepening his voice, squinting his eyes like a bad male model, hooking his thumbs into the pockets of his jean shorts: “We’re gonna go to Madonna Heights, hook up with some chicks.”

Melanie did the thing she did practically every time she heard a boy say something dumb, which was click her tongue and shove out a quick sigh that started with a ‘K’ and scraped the roof of her mouth.  Then she added, “Gross.”  Jessica giggled and asked if we were serious.  I laughed awkwardly and told her of course Kevin was kidding.  Then I planned to rush the conversation somewhere else, like the Islanders game last night, since another reason I was so smitten with Jessica was because her devotion to the New York Islanders was even more die-hard than mine.  I started rehearsing the talking points in my head: Isn’t it a relief that they finally won one this season, even if they needed overtime to beat the freaking Mighty Ducks?  And don’t you think Pierre Turgeon’s gonna have an even bigger season than last year?  But before I could swallow my nerves and change the subject, Kevin butted back in: “No we’re totally serious.  We should get going too, we don’t wanna keep those chicks waiting.”  Then without saying goodbye or looking back at me he walked on, heading straight for house 22.

I told Jessica that Kevin really, truly was only kidding, that we were just taking a shortcut to the park, and maybe I’d see her later.  She said good-bye with an enthusiastic wave that started all the way down at her elbow, never once losing control of her pogo-ball, and as my heart quivered I ran to catch up with Kevin.

Once we got far enough into the woods behind house 22, I asked Kevin why he had to tell Jessica all that stuff.  He knew how much I liked her.  “Trust me dude,” he said, “she’s totally jealous right now.”

I said, “No, she’s totally grossed out is what she is.”

“Dude, just trust me on this,” he said.  I didn’t trust him on this, but I let it go at that.

The woods behind house 22 led to a narrow field of waist-high grass, home to a row of tall powerline pylons.  We crossed the field to yet another patch of woods, and after we checked our shins and forearms for ticks, we headed northwest, directed by the little compass on Kevin’s Swiss Army knife.  We stayed the course for about a mile until we saw, between the trees, slivers of patchy grass, pale brown softball-field dirt, and farther in the distance, the off-white concrete walls of some dreary institution.  Kevin’s careful steps turned into little hurried leaps until he reached the edge of the woods.  “This is it!”  he whisper-shouted.

A sign nailed to a tree on the boundary warned us: DANGER, in bold white letters inside a bold red rectangle.  Below it, in equally bold red letters over white background: NO TRESPASSING.  That was all.  No mention of whether violators would be prosecuted to the fullest or any extent of the law.  Not even a hint as to what kind of DANGER waited for trespassers like us.

“You ready?” Kevin asked.  This became the part where, even though earlier I was reluctant to go on this little escapade, I suddenly felt prickly with excitement and grateful that I had Kevin to lure me out of my wuss-shell every couple weeks or so.  Like the time he convinced me to set off an M-80 inside the fingerhole of that bowling ball we found in the dumpster behind The Sports Authority, and it got blown to smithereens in the middle of the dirtbike tracks. Or the time we snuck onto the big hidden estate on Sixpence Place and he dared me to do a flip off the high-dive board of the swimming pool.  With those priceless memories in mind I smiled at Kevin and ventured onto the grounds of Madonna Heights.

It sounded like Madonna Heights had been silent for centuries.  All I heard was soft autumn wind and our sneakers fluffing through the fading grass.  Nobody in sight.  The few windows we saw were too dark to reveal anything.

The buildings were a bunch of brick and concrete blocks, just like every school we’d ever been to.  The wear on the softball field implied the girls used it biweekly at most.  Between the field and the buildings there was a craggy blacktop with a handball wall and two basketball hoops, neither with a net and one with a crooked rim.

“What now?” I asked.  “We supposed to wait around, hope some girls come out and offer us blow jobs?”

“Yeah let’s just hang around for a bit,” as if that was our most reasonable option.  He reached into his pocket and pulled out the blue rubber ball he usually carried around.  “Wanna play some handball?”

“You fuckin’ stupid?  And make all that noise?”

“All right, well what then?”

“Might as well pop a squat over there,” I said, nodding toward the area behind the third base dugout.

“Why would we want to take a dump?”

“What are you talking about ‘take a dump’?”

“You said ‘pop a squat.’”

“Pop a squat doesn’t mean take a dump, it just means sit on the ground.”

“‘Pop a squat’ means take a dump.”

“Whatever yo, let’s just sit on the ground over there.”  So we did.

Before too long Kevin got bored and started bouncing his blue rubber ball against the back of the dugout.  I told him he was being stupid making so much noise, and he told me I was being a pussy and besides he was bouncing the ball quiet enough that nobody could hear it from inside.  He kept it up just long enough to prove that he didn’t have to listen to me and he’d damn well bounce his rubber ball if he damn well pleased.  Then he stopped.

We sat around for a short while, mostly in silence, until we heard some rusty hinges creak just a few dozen yards away.  We sprang to our feet and peeked around the dugout.  Three girls came outside, definitely high-schoolers.  One girl was runway model-tall with stringy peroxide-blonde hair.  Another was average height, with dark brown hair, light brown skin, and slightly pudgy.  The third was short and ghostly pale, with goth-black hair and big baby bunny eyes accentuated by thick rings of dark eye shadow.  The girls wore identical white blouses, black vests, black skirts, and white stockings, all of which looked pretty well-laundered from where I stood.

The pale girl propped the back door open an inch with a small brick, and then each girl lit a cigarette.  They all moved with a frazzled and defiant kind of grace, as if they had blossomed very young and had somehow suffered unfairly for it.  Not that any of them seemed traumatized or anything.  Just frazzled and defiant.

The girls had barely finished exhaling their first drags when without warning, Kevin popped out from behind the dugout and approached them.  For a moment I considered staying hidden, but that moment didn’t last long, and I popped out as well.

They obviously noticed us but didn’t say anything.  Kevin came to a halt about twenty feet from where they stood, and I stopped just a few steps behind him.  Kevin tried to break the ice with a simple “Hey.”

None of the girls acknowledged his greeting, but they did keep looking at us, the way leery natives might look at boorish tourists.  Kevin took this as a good sign.  “Any you girls got an extra smoke?” he asked.  Not that he smoked.

The slightly pudgy girl said simply, “Nope.”  The pale girl said something privately to her companions, then the peroxide-blonde mumbled something back, and they all giggled.

“So what’re your names?”  Kevin asked.

“No thanks,” said the peroxide-blonde.

“Come on, what are your names?” Kevin asked, like they were merely playing coy.

“I’m Whitney.  Whitney Houston,” said the peroxide-blonde.  Pointing her cigarette at the pudgy girl, she said, “This is Julia Roberts.”  The pale girl identified herself as “Amy Fisher.”

“All right, let’s go,” I whispered to Kevin.  “They’re obviously not-”

Kevin wasn’t listening.  “That’s cool, that’s cool, I get it,” he called to the girls.  “I’m, uh, Dre, and this here’s Beavis.”

“Congratulations,” said Whitney Houston.  “Bye now.”  She didn’t even wave.  The girls whispered among themselves.

“Any you ladies wanna take a walk with us?” Kevin asked.  “Behind the softball dugouts?”

Now the girls were completely ignoring us.

“Well we tried,” I shrugged.  “Why don’t we go back and see if Jessica’s still around?”

That’s when Kevin reached under his T-shirt and unbuttoned his fly.  He pulled his jean shorts down to his knees and unleashed his cock.  It was all unfurling before me in slow motion and yet I was too shocked to do anything about it.

“Hey ladies,” Kevin shouted, much louder than before.  “You sure none o’ you wants a taste o’ this?”

The girls turned their heads toward him and he twirled his cock like a pinwheel.  All three girls erupted into delirious cackles, but that didn’t faze Kevin.  He just kept on twirling like he was the world’s most irresistible male stripper.

I barely had time to blush before I heard a bold, brawny voice shout, “HEY!”  From out of another doorway stepped a muscular man in a white polo shirt and green shorts that appeared to be some kind of staff uniform.  From where I stood he looked like Evander goddamn Holyfield.  He ran a few steps before I unfroze and ran myself.  Kevin was still pulling up his jean shorts and buttoning his fly as he caught up with me.  The girls were still cackling as we crossed the edge of the woods.

Kevin got a few steps ahead of me and he was checking the little compass on his Swiss Army knife.  I prayed he remembered that we needed to head southeast to get back to the field with the powerline pylons, but I didn’t want to call out to him and make any more noise that might help Evander Holyfield track us down.

The two of us ran like hell, neither saying a word nor looking back, and we tore through the waist-high grass of the powerline pylon fields, right on to the next patch of woods, no time to stop and check our shins and forearms for ticks, and we bolted through those woods to the backyard of house #22 and then to the street on Essex Court, our sneakers slapping furiously on the pavement, until we came back to Jessica and Melanie, who were now equipped with tennis rackets and volleying a fuzzy yellow ball, and finally we stopped to catch our breaths.

Jessica lobbed the ball to Melanie and asked, “What are you running from?”

I was much more winded than Kevin, so he answered.  “We were…just about…to hook up with these chicks…at Madonna Heights…and then this security guard…he came out…and chased us…”

Jessica asked, “Was he a black guy in green shorts?”

We turned and saw him.  He was a few hundred feet away, standing on the front lawn of house #22, pausing to catch his own breath.  But once he saw our faces he broke into a run again.  So once again we ran like hell.

I was running on fumes.  The only sport I actually played was baseball and I’d never run for so long in my entire life.  Kevin, the starting power forward on the school basketball team, had plenty of gas left.  He left me in his dust, disappearing into the woods that led to my across-the-street neighbors’ backyard, and he never looked back.

As I neared the end of the Essex Court cul-de-sac I turned my head, even though I knew it would cost me a few steps.  Evander Holyfield was definitely gaining on me.  Surely he’d get within grabbing distance well before I got to my house.  I knew I had to try some kind of evasive maneuver, even if it was incredibly reckless and would very likely blow up in my face.

When I noticed that house #38 still had a FOR SALE sign spiked into the front lawn, I ran down the driveway and hooked a sharp left into the backyard.  I figured the real estate people would’ve locked all the doors, so I didn’t get my hopes up, but wouldn’t you know it, the glass door on the back patio slid right open and I got into the unsold house no problem.  Once inside I clicked the lock, just seconds before I heard Evander Holyfield furiously yanking the door handle in vain.

I sat on the carpeted stairs to catch my breath, gulping down nostrilfuls of a new-house-smell that included French Vanilla, windex and sawdust.  But I barely had time to recuperate before I heard Evander Holyfield try to open a window.  When that window didn’t open he tried the next one.  For a moment I considered checking the rest of the doors and windows but a second later it was too late anyway.  A doorknob jingled and turned, then a set of brand-new hinges squeaked ever so slightly, sending me tip-toeing up the stairs as fast as I could.

At the top of the stairs a short barrier attached to the banister gave me something to crouch behind.  I didn’t want to trap myself in one of the bedrooms, and I assumed that if I heard Evander come up the stairs I could easily hurdle over the barrier, zip down the stairs and flee out the door before he knew what happened.  It all seemed perfectly logical at the time.

What actually happened was this: after searching every room of the downstairs level, Evander stomped to the top of the stairs, at which point I tried to hurdle over the barrier.  Instead I stumbled and lost my grip, and I would’ve broken my neck if Evander hadn’t snatched me, sinking his fingers into my left armpit.

Up close, he looked a lot less like Evander Holyfield.  He was nearly ten years younger, his skull was pointier, his skin was a few shades lighter, his eyes were wider and farther apart.  Of course, he still looked like he could hospitalize me with one punch if he really wanted to.

“You think you hot or somethin?” he asked, his hand now clamped around the nape of my neck.  “Flappin your dick at those girls?  The fuck’s wrong with you?”

“It wasn’t me,” I said.

“Yeah right.  And I’m not DeVaughn Pierre-Antoine.”

I looked for a name embroidered on his uniform shirt, and sure enough, it was right there over the left breast pocket, and sure enough that name was “DeVaughn Pierre-Antoine.”

“No I swear,” I said.  “It was that other kid, he’s the one who flashed those girls.”

He released his grip on my neck and folded his hands.  “Now see, as far as I’m concerned, some kid about your height, your hair color, your skin color, wearin a gray T-shirt just like yours, short blue jeans just like yours, blue and orange baseball cap just like yours, basically matchin your description exactly, trespassed on the grounds of my institution and flapped his fat floppy dick in front of three teenage girls.  Three very troubled teenage girls.  Girls I’m supposed to protect and provide security for.  And a kid who does that on my watch can’t just get away with that kinda thing.”

“But I’m not the one who…I don’t even have a fat floppy… you know…I haven’t really…had any puberty…yet.”

Unintentionally, my voice cracked on the word ‘puberty,’ and DeVaughn Pierre-Antoine laughed.  “Is that right?” he asked.

I looked down and nodded.

“OK.  Prove it.”

My guts rumbled and my ears got red hot.  I couldn’t speak so I just looked at him and with my face I asked if he was joking.

But DeVaughn Pierre-Antoine was definitely not joking.

“Prove it,” he said, “and we’ll forget this whole thing ever happened.”

{ X }

When I got back to my house Kevin was in the driveway playing handball, slapping his blue rubber ball against the garage door.  After I got close enough I snatched the ball from the air.

“You get lost or something?” he asked.

“Nope.”

“You get caught?”

I looked down at the blue rubber ball, then I threw it as hard as I could at Kevin’s face.  He didn’t have time to block it.  It popped him right in the eyeball.  As he brought his hands to his face and grunted I ran up and booted him in his fat floppy dick.  He fell to his knees, coughed twice, and puked on the pavement.

“Now we’re even,” I said, then I went to the get the hose.

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