Coming Home by Benjamin Welton

I can’t tell why, I just can’t. Blame it on the green light emanating from the dashboard, or blame it on the anniversary that came up after every “hello” at every store. “I just can’t believe she’s gone, you know. Such a sweet girl.”

Yes, very sweet.

No, the truth is that nothing I can name told me to drive out here on a night like this. I can hear the rain pounding on my roof with angry fists. The leak that I have been meaning to fix for months is quickly turning the backseat into a beach towel that’s been left out for the tide. I’ll throw it out in time.

I can’t tell why, I just can’t. Blame it on the green light emanating from the dashboard, or blame it on the anniversary that came up after every “hello” at every store. “I just can’t believe she’s gone, you know. Such a sweet girl.”

Yes, very sweet.

No, the truth is that nothing I can name told me to drive out here on a night like this. I can hear the rain pounding on my roof with angry fists. The leak that I have been meaning to fix for months is quickly turning the backseat into a beach towel that’s been left out for the tide. I’ll throw it out in time.

The music on the radio seems to be all songs sung by women. They make one think about what she would’ve sounded like if she could still sing. I remember her being able to sing, but then again I couldn’t remember her age when I spoke to dad earlier in the day.

“No, she was sixteen, Chris. Don’t you remember – you went to school with her.”

I went to school with a lot of dead people, I thought. There’s Cub (I can’t remember his real name) who killed himself after being unable to kick heroin. His suicide had been followed by another, but it was some freshman from the backwoods so none of us really cared about him. The closest one to me had been Steve Hartley, the guy who went and got himself decapitated because he was driving his motorcycle too fast and because a prank went terribly wrong. Who knew taut fishing line could do so much damage?

But these small town tragedies were nothing compared to her. At sixteen, she had been stabbed over fifty times, dumped on the county line, and buried in a makeshift grave that took investigators six months to find. Her killers had been her best friends. The local newspapers first, then the national media found a lot of evidence to work with. This is the digital age, and being teenage girls, they documented every hangnail for the world to see.

“They just didn’t want to be friends anymore is what I heard. Also, Ken – you remember Ken, right? The kid who once tried to kiss you in the locker room during sophomore year? Well, he’s an electrician now. Anyway, he told me that the two girls were lesbians, and the one they killed was a devout Christian who had a problem with that. That’s why they stuck her where they did after she died.”

Richie, my old college roommate, was lying. None of the reports that I’ve read say anything about postmortem wounds. By all accounts, the two killers acted like panicked young girls and stabbed willy nilly. The victim didn’t die because of precision strikes; she bleed out because of too many holes, most of which were nowhere near vital organs. That’s not evidence of cunning, and even though it was premeditated, this was closer to a killing than a murder.

Again, I have to reiterate that I didn’t know any of these people. I mean really know them. I had shared hallways with them, but they were just faces and smells among many others. If had known about their fates in advance, I might have paid more attention. Then again, in high school, I had my own demons. In particular, my demon had a habit of wearing white and went by the name of Caroline Rochelle.

She was the loneliest girl I had ever known, and even today, almost five years after, I have never met someone so desperate. Such desperation lead her to trust a virtual stranger all for the promise of some pot and maybe the loss of her virginity. She had smoked the pot, then she had given all of herself away. That part took an hour. The clean-up after her death took three.

No, I never knew those two girls, and they dumped their kill miles away from mine. They went north; I drove south. Their body has been found; mine hasn’t. Still, for some reason, I sitting here in the rain next to a single, white cross.

Owen’s Bad Night by Benjamin Welton

Death Breath’s boot crashed on Owen’s head. It cut him hardway.

“Motherfucker,” he thought, “motherfucker.”

Owen stared up at the lights in the auditorium. He could hear the crowd chanting “You fucked up! You fucked up!” To Owen they sounded muffled, almost as if they were coming from underwater.

The kicks were stiff and real and they hurt from the inside out and back around. Usually, Death Breath was a professional – he never hurt anybody and he never acted like a punk, but tonight he was being vicious. Owen thought maybe he had blown too many spots, or maybe Death Breath was pissed because of an unprotected chair shot to the head. After all, Death Breath preached safety and he practiced integrity in the ring. Owen was the opposite, and after his botched bank robbery, Death Breath had been the first guy in the locker room to publicly call for Owen’s pink slip.

Within minutes of the opening bell, Owen regretted agreeing to let Death Breath gig him.

•••

On the night when Death Breath decided to bury Owen, Owen had been out of the game for six months, and before that he had been in jail for second degree robbery. He had been drunk and loaded on coke the morning he stormed into the First National with a hunting knife. He’d forgotten to wear a mask, so it took the state just two days to find him. Owen felt like an idiot, and worse still he felt betrayed because he knew it was the fans that had turned him in. It was them – the same dumb marks who loved to boo him that had turned rat as soon as the six o’clock news rolled around. Those same chickenshit “tough guys” who had always tried to jump the rails during his promos were now the ones responsible for cutting off his livelihood. To Owen that was unforgivable.

But from a different point-of-view, it was Owen who had drawn first blood. The summer before his incarceration, Owen had thrown Eddie Boyd, aka Sexy T, through a stack of fluorescent light tubes. When Sexy T, the biggest face in the company, got up, he realized that an artery in his arm was severed. Owen remembered him saying “Oh, fuck,” then running back to the dressing room. Owen was later told that Sexy T had been airlifted to a nearby hospital. One of the doctors said that Owen should’ve been charged with attempted murder.

That hard bump put Owen on disciplinary action for a month. Even though it was an accident, the boss used his previous sins in the ring against him and kept him from working the company’s biggest pay-per-view. When Owen was finally allowed back, the boss, Danny Hodge, gave him the business before his return match.

“No hard bumps on the new kid, and whatever you do don’t put on a boat show out there. And for God’s sake make Reeves look good.”

Owen knew what the company was doing: they were setting up to punish him for the rest of his contract by turning him into a jobber for any new talent who looked like title potential. Chris Reeves was the first guy that they wanted him to put over. Owen felt that the push was undeserved, and in the first five minutes of his match, Owen put the kid through two tables. The kid had panicked, but Owen just kept feeding him move-by-move instructions. He ended the match by hitting his finisher on a bed of barbed wire. It went 1-2-3 and Owen left the building.

•••

After Death Breath picked him up for his signature move, Owen tried to wriggle into an awkward position, thus blowing the spot. When Death Breath hit it, Owen came down hard on his shoulder and everything went soft. His arms and legs turned to rubber, while his neck felt like it had an axe wound. He couldn’t move when Death Breath stood over him with a cheese grater rigged with two blades in the center.

“Goddamnit! That’s ten tonight. You’re taking this one deep.”

Owen went under with warm blood in his eyes.