QSFer Andrew Demcak has a new paranormal book out:
Being different can be dangerous, and discovery can be deadly.
High school freshman James Kerr is finding out he’s not quite like his classmates. Around the time he realizes he’s attracted to his best friend, Paul Schmitz, James starts channeling a dead writer’s poetry and also discovers he has an ability to manipulate energy—a super power. Before James can figure out why this is happening to him, tragedy strikes in the form of Paul’s abusive father, and James is sent to a government-run school, The Paragon Academy, which specializes in juvenile paranormal research. There, he meets Lumen Kim, the daughter of a famous Korean actress. Lumen’s psychic ability might be the key to helping James understand both his poems and his own power.
“I’m glad I can keep my Halloween candy here at your house. My mom would just throw it all out when she found it,” I said.
“I can’t believe she still does that,” Paul said.
“Every year. Now she says we’re too old for Halloween anyway.”
“Too old? No one is too old for free candy.”
“Anyway, my mom thinks sugar is bad for you at any age.”
“Sounds like a bunch of bullshit to me.”
“Yeah. Me too.”
An enormous pile of miniature Snickers, Mounds, Milk Duds, Junior Mints, Mike and Ikes, and Almond Joys spread across Paul’s twin mattress in front of us. Paul and I were both ninth graders at Hardwick School, which, I admit, really did make us too old for trick-or-treating. I guess I was feeling a little bit guilty that we’d just fleeced the neighborhood of all this candy. We began to separate it into colorful piles.
“Ouch!” I said as Paul’s hand brushed mine and a green spark of electricity snapped between us.
“That must be from the carpet.”
“Or my electric personality.”
“That’s so weird too. It always happens to me.”
“Yeah. I wonder how many volts it was,” I said.
“Who knows? Let’s finish this up.”
Paul was fifteen already, a year and two weeks older than me. He’d been held back in the second grade at Silver Star Elementary School, and ever since then, we were both in the same grade together. Paul had grown much bigger than me too: puberty kicked in early, his vital glands making him taller, broader, and more muscular. In spite of his size, his dad still wanted to toughen him up. He made Paul lift weights three nights a week on a rickety exercise bench in their overpacked garage.
“What the hell are you two doing in there?” Paul’s father shouted as he banged his angry fist on the locked bedroom door.
Paul and I jumped up off the bed, startled by the loud sound. The doorknob rattled, turning left and then right, again and again.
“Nothing, Dad!” Paul answered as he rushed over to unlock the door.
“Open this goddamn door!” Paul’s dad yelled and pounded his fist again.
Paul’s father stood in the hallway staring daggers down at us, an open beer can sweating in his left hand. He looked big for a short man, tough and muscled. He had a tanned, leathery face from standing in the sun selling cars all day. On top of it all: he was just a mean son of a bitch .
I waited next to Paul’s bed paralyzed with fear.
“I warned you not to close this door when you had someone over!”
“Yeah, Dad, I know, but I didn’t want Tiffany to see what we were doing.”
“What’s your little sister got to do with it?”
“She’s always stealing things from me. I didn’t want her to see all the candy.”
Paul’s father looked at me, the candy, and then at Paul.
“No more closed doors, and it’s almost 8:00 p.m., time for your little pal, James, to go home.”
I knew Paul’s dad didn’t like me at all. He walked in on Paul and me constantly, always checking up on us. He was waiting for something to happen. But I could never figure out what. And the way he looked at me, like I came from another planet. I guess he thought I was a bad influence, even though Paul and I had never gotten into any real trouble or anything, at least not that his dad knew about. Paul wanted me to start lifting weights with him too, but his dad thought I was a weakling. Paul said his dad even called me a sissy. So we still hadn’t started any weight training. I doubted very much we ever would.
His dad was a total asshole.
“Well, you heard him. He wants you to go now,” Paul said, crestfallen, as he picked up an empty pillowcase and began herding the candy inside.
“I know. See you tomorrow on the bus.”
“Yeah. See you.”
* * *
“ Where have you been? I called and called, but you didn’t answer,” my mother scolded me as I walked into the ochre kitchen. “And you’ve missed dinner again.”
She was wearing her paint-smeared silk kimono. Her bright red hair was pulled back by an elastic headband, and she had absolutely no makeup on at all. I could tell she’d been working in her studio. My mother, Cindy Kerr , was a famous painter here in Los Angeles. Everyone who was anyone in the modern art world knew who she was. The Guggenheim in New York just purchased two of her pieces, which was a really big deal. One of them was a nude she’d done of me when I was six years old. It used to hang right in the center of our living room. It totally embarrassed me having my friends over; they would immediately see me naked right over the leather sofa.
My mother stood at the Spanish-tiled counter by the sink cleaning off her paintbrushes with a filthy rag that stank of acetate.
“I told you I was going over to Paul’s after school.”
“Well, next time write it down somewhere. I’m only your mother. I can’t be expected to remember every detail of your life. What did Paul’s mother serve you for dinner, anyway? Some dreadful Filipino food cooked in lard with tons of salt?”
“What? I thought you liked Filipino food.”
“When it’s cooked properly.”
“Paul’s mom is a Filipina. How much more properly cooked could it be?”
“Don’t take that tone with me. You know what I think about proper nutrition. Most people are eating themselves into type 2 diabetes .”
“It was fine, Mom. She made a chicken stir-fry with lots of broccoli and also her vegetarian lumpia.”
“I’m sure the chicken was full of hormones and couldn’t have possibly been cage-free .”
“I’m going to my room now,” I said, exasperated.
“Okay, darling,” my mother replied , suddenly softening her voice to a gentle purr. She returned to her sable brushes and her half-empty gin and tonic. Then she looked up at me, “You know, James, I’ve been thinking: you see too much of that Paul. Those obnoxious parents of his. Such vulgarians. How they ever got their child into Hardwick I’ll never know.”
This was one of my mother’s favorite rants. I could always tell when one was coming on because she always started with “that Paul.” Being a single mother made her a bit over-protective, to put it mildly. She thought both Paul and his family were pure trash, even though they were pretty well-off financially. But that didn’t matter to my mother. I didn’t care what she thought, anyway. Paul had always been my best friend, and he always would be.
“I don’t know how I got in there.”
“It didn’t have to do with your grades,” my mother laughed, a little bit cruelly, and then sensing her faux pas, stopped. “You are a smart boy, James. You just don’t know how to apply yourself yet. You will, in time. I promise.”
“That’s not what my test scores say.”
“You still have a little trouble with reading, that’s all,” my mother said, then sipped her drink . “It’s not dyslexia, thank God. And now you have your reading teacher on Tuesdays, right? Or is it Wednesdays? I can never remember which day it is.”
“Mrs. Kimble? It’s Tuesdays. She makes me read Cat in the Hat to her. She’s awful.”
“Now, you stop that. She’s only trying to help you. That’s why I love Hardwick School—all those special classes and teachers.”
“It makes me feel retarded.”
“Darling, you are special. Always remember that.”
“Anyway, can I go to my room now?”
“Certainly you may. I’m not stopping you. Don’t you have some homework to do?”
“Yes. A lot of it,” I lied.
“Oh, Mrs. Wu tidied up a bit in there today. I hope you don’t mind.”
“What? You never make that bed of yours. Clothes all over the place. She merely straightened it up. She is our housekeeper, you know.”
I stormed out of the kitchen and made a beeline to my room. I tossed my red backpack onto my twin bed as I switched on the overhead light to survey the damage. My Antony and the Johnsons poster flapped up at one end where the tape had come away from the wall. Mrs. Wu hadn’t really done anything more than make my bed and fold up a few pairs of my Levi’s. She’d been our housekeeper ever since I was really little. I couldn’t remember a time she wasn’t around. I pulled my muted iPhone from my pocket and put it on my nightstand. It turned on as I touched it, the screen blinking a message up at me. I read the message slowly like Mrs. Kimble told me, sounding out the letters, forming the words carefully between my lips.
One missed call from “Mom.”
By the time I was done reading it, the iPhone winked off again.
At least she wasn’t lying about that.
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Andrew Demcak is an award-winning poet and novelist whose work has been widely published and anthologized both in print and on-line, and whose books have been featured by The American Library Association, Verse Daily, The Lambda Literary Foundation, The Best American Poetry blog, The Nervous Breakdown, and Poets/Artists.