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Columbus and the Fat Lady

And Other Stories
by Matt Cohen
introduction by Wayne Grady
edition:eBook
also available: Paperback
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Whipped

Whipped

An Arthur Beauchamp Novel
edition:eBook
also available: Hardcover Paperback
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This Little Light
Excerpt

T H I S  L I T T L E  L I G H T

BLOGLOG: Rory Anne Miller 11/27/2024—9:51 pm

We’re trending. Rory Miller. Feliza Lopez. In this moment, on this night, we’re the most famous girls in America.

Those pics you’ve seen in your feeds and on TV over the past few hours? Two fresh-faced teens in bridal couture on the arms of their daddies at tonight’s American Virtue Ball? That’s me and Fee, my best friend. The grainy footage from the school surveillance cameras of two figures in white gowns climbing up into the smoky hills after the bomb exploded at Sacred Heart High? Also us. It’s true that guilty people run. Scared people run too. They’re calling us the Villains in Versace.

What they’re saying about us? First—who wears Versace to a purity ball? I wore Mishka. Fee wore Prada. The details matter. The truth—which is not somewhere in the middle as guilty people like to say—is vital. Like oxygen. The truth is that Fee and I did not try to blow up the chastity ball at Sacred Heart High tonight. We had nothing to do with that thing they found in my car, either. And we have no involvement whatsoever with the Red Market. We’re not the spawn of Satan you’re loading your Walmart rifles to hunt.

If I’m being honest? Totally honest? I’ve spent a stupid amount of time daydreaming about being famous, and how amazing it’d be to have millions of followers. That’s normal, right? A shallow distraction from reality? I live in California, after all, where fame pollutes the atmosphere then penetrates your skin with the UV rays. But this isn’t fame. It’s infamy. And I feel like I do in my recurring naked-at-school nightmare—gross and exposed.

Careful what you wish for? Fee and I don’t have followers so much as we have trolls and trackers. We’re being flayed in the media. Convicted by social. And now we’re freaking fugitives, hiding out in this scrap metal shed behind a little cabin in the mountains overlooking Malibu.

I’m so thankful for this old pink laptop—courtesy of Javier, who’s letting us hide in his shed, which I’ll explain later. I’ve caught up on the fake news and read all the hate tweets. Bombers? Religious terrorists? Red Market runners, trafficking stolen babies? It feels like a joke, but it’s not. And to make it even more real, the rock evangelist Reverend Jagger Jonze just put up a million-dollar reward for our capture. There’s a freaking bounty on our heads. So here we sit in this shed. No way to defend ourselves. Nowhere to run.

My throat hurts from swallowing screams. And the worst thing—I mean, worst is relative under these circumstances—but Fee is really sick. She’s curled up beside me under a tattered blanket, not really awake but groaning. Whatever’s wrong with her, it started at the ball, and once we got here, she basically collapsed. Her forehead’s hot. She’s pale. Something she ate? She barely ate today. Flu? I don’t know.

In order to remain calm-ish, I’m going to write our side of the story. I’m afraid we’ll be tracked to the shed if I post entries in real time, so I won’t submit until I know we’re safe. This old laptop has had a long-life battery upgrade, thank God. I could write all night. Maybe I will. Wouldn’t be the first time. Won’t be the last. Writing? It’s the only way I’ve ever been able to make sense of my life.

Just this afternoon, Fee and I were with our other best friends—Brooklyn Leon, Zara Rohanian and Delaney Sharpe, all of us students at Sacred Heart High School—getting ready for the ball at Jinny Hutsall’s house. Hutsalls are beyond rich, so they hired a StyleMeNow crew to come over and do our hair, paint our nails, curl our lashes and plump our lips, which I did not hate. We sipped the champagne Jinny’d cadged from the fridge—a very unJinny move, now I think about it—and snapped a hundred pics of our virgin-bride splendor, while our tuxedoed daddies tossed back Manhattans on Warren Hutsall’s lanai. The others got giggly, but slipping into my gorgeous Mishka, I felt nothing but dread.

It wasn’t about the virginity pledge we were about to take. My friends and I weren’t serious about that. Not really, or not all of us. The Virtue Ball was a swag grab, a couture gown, a brush with celebrity, a photo op. Or at least that’s what we said. For me? As an atheist who definitely won’t be saving it until marriage, it was also an opportunity to do some reporting for my blog. That’s what I told myself, over and above the dread, which I’ll explain later.

Driving there tonight, I still hadn’t decided if I’d dig into the hellaciousness of vowing chastity to our fathers or if I’d go with a softer piece acknowledging the father/daughter bonding but include some solid stats to show that teaching abstinence doesn’t work. I hadn’t decided which angle would get me more likes. That’s the truth. I hadn’t quite got to the point where I actually was considering exposing the whole corrupt deal. Too scared, maybe?

Well, I know which way I’ll go now. Though I couldn’t have imagined I’d be writing about how Fee and I became outlaws hiding in a seven-by-eight-foot shed, crowded by a greasy lawn mower, a couple of leaf blowers, a tangle of fishing rods, three old suitcases and some fat white trash bags leaking lawn clippings.

When I look up, I can see the full moon and stars blinking through gaps in the aluminum roof, and the distant lights from passing planes. There are no doubt already bounty hunters out there looking for us in their MiniCops and GarBirds—those homemade flying jobbies people get shipped from China to build in their garages even though they’re totally illegal. They’re crowdsourcing our capture. It’s all over the news.

There’s a window at the front of the shed that looks out over the rocky cliffs, and from there I can see the neighbor’s trailer a hundred or so yards away—an ancient silver Airstream, the front tow-hitch propped off-kilter on three big cinder blocks, a big blue tarp that was strung up to make an awning over the porch billowing in the breeze. Light from a television was flickering in the front window when I looked out before. No vehicle in the driveway, though.

I’ve seen a couple of drones whir by. Definitely looking for us. The new cam-drones are so quiet and acrobatic you don’t see them until they’re on you taking surveillance. I noticed an UberCopter pass a few minutes ago. Saw the police helicopters flying back in the direction of Sacred Heart High, where the bomb exploded. With the bounty, and the media firestorm, there will be a lot more of them tomorrow in the daylight. Unless the Santa Anas start blowing. The news is saying we should expect strong winds later tonight, and off and on tomorrow. Crossing freaking fingers. The winds will keep the air traffic down.

The cable stations are covering us round the clock like we’re a weather event—a hurricane or severe snowstorm or a California wildfire so big and bad they gotta give it a name. Fox News is calling our story “The Hunt”—so ugly rhyming memes. My head’s spinning. It’s been torture to go online. But worse not to know. People say you shouldn’t read the comments section. People are right. I seriously want to respond to each one. Like, I want to tell Twitter user @H8UevlGASHES—who suggested the insertion of a broken bottle into our life-giving lady parts—that he does not understand irony. And I want to tell that congresswoman from Texas who just tweeted that Fee and I should have our “eyes sewn open and be forced to watch a late-term abortion” that she should definitely kill the person who does her hair. The guy who started #rape’em1st? He just makes me wanna cry. And? The president tweeted out a White House dinner invitation to Jinny Hutsall and Reverend Jagger Jonze. It would be funny if it weren’t too true.

Our “friend” Jinny is trending too. They’re saying that what happened at the Virtue Ball tonight has ignited an “American Holy War.” Jinny fucking Hutsall. Until that blond-hair, yoga-arm, apple-ass thigh-gap-in-a-tartan-skirt moved in next door a few months ago and joined our class at Sacred Heart High, we were just us. The Hive. Friends since we were toddlers. Now, two of us are the New Targets of Holy War. And the host of tonight’s ball, Reverend Jagger Jonze—the one that put up the million-dollar bounty after everything went down in the parking lot at the AVB? He’s rocketed to superstardom. Just like that. Jagger Jonze is the devil. But more on that later.

First—the bomb. We didn’t set the bomb. And if someone wanted to bomb the ball, why did they blow up the bathroom clear on the other side of the school’s fifteen-acre campus? Nothing makes sense. It’s all just crazy. We’ve been accused of being “runners” doing dastardly deeds for the Red Market. My mother’s always said there’s no such thing as the Red Market. She says it’s a construct—evil alt-right propaganda. I don’t know what to believe. I mean, people have been talking about the Pink Market since long before abortion was banned again. Everyone knows there’s a Pink Market out there helping minors access birth control, and morning-after pills, and getting them to underground clinics and all.

But the Red Market? Supposedly it’s a baby-stealing mafia that supplies product to illegal stem cell research labs. Even the media say “alleged” or “rumored” when they talk about it. Law enforcement officers and politicians are rumored to be involved in the Red Market too. Even if my mother’s wrong, and people are actually that depraved, Fee and I are not, and never have been, and never would be, involved in such foul shit.

I’m scared. No, terrified.

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