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Cutter Slagle
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envy.jpg
Art by Justin Stauffer 2010

Envy

 

Cutter Slagle

 

 

          The cool, blue water rushed into his lungs.  The awful taste of chlorine—he couldn’t breathe.  He knew he was going to die like this, his worst fear—drowning.  But then someone was pulling his hair, tugging him upward, and suddenly his face was lifted out of the water and met the hot, sticky summer air.  He could breathe again.  He was choking, coughing, but the feeling of suffocation was gone.  He was still alive.

 

          “P-p-please!” Ben tried to talk, to beg.  It was difficult to form words.  His head hurt; he felt like he was floating.  He was together one minute, and then in a daze the next.  And then he remembered hitting his head.  He was groggy, in and out of consciousness.  Where was he?  How had he gotten here?  Damn, his head throbbed.  He wasn’t even sure what he had hit in on, but could tell he was losing blood.  A lot of blood, and fast. 

 

          His blond hair was pasted to his forehead, covering his eyes.  He tried to shake his head, get a view of his surroundings.  It was hard to do, and more pain came with the movement of his head.  With his hands bound behind his back with something that felt rough against his skin, he lay on his stomach, dry concrete pressing into his face; he could feel a cut on the side of his cheek.  It stung.

 

          “What’s a matter, Benny Boy?”

 

          “Bill? Is that you?” Ben hadn’t seen his attacker, or maybe he had. It was so damn difficult to remember, but now he didn’t need to.  The voice— it was familiar and he recognized it—it was almost identical to his own.  Ben knew who was responsible for this.

 

          “Oh, Benny’s so smart, so logical,” Bill mocked.

 

          “Why are you doing this?”

 

          “Benny’s so talented, Benny’s so popular.”

 

          “Stop it, Bill!”

          “Benny’s so wonderful, Benny’s going places.”

 

          “Why are you doing this?” Ben repeated and his voice cracked. Tears formed. 

 

He wanted to be brave, usually was, but something wasn’t right.  This wasn’t a joke or a friendly prank.  From the smell of the multiple pool chemicals and weed killers to the taste of blood, Ben knew this wasn’t going to end well.  He just still didn’t know why.  But in his twenty-one years of life he had never been so scared.  And he had never seen Bill act this way in his twenty-one years of life.  Bill wasn’t himself, he was . . . different, frightening, almost crazy-like.

 

          “You mean you don’t understand?”

 

          “No!” Ben screamed.  “I-I-I don’t understand.” 

 

He rotated his head; his hair shifted, and he could see—a little.  The starless, black night, the bright, lit-up pool, the flagpole supporting team Michigan.  And Ben knew where he was.  He was in his own backyard.  He noticed his mother’s different pieces of green plastic lawn furniture scattered around the kidney-shaped pool, the clothesline with hanging, drying swimsuits set up beside the two-story house, and then the fence surrounding him. 

 

They were alone, trapped, with no witnesses.  And then a little bit came back to him, a small piece of the puzzle.  He had been inside the living room, maybe, possibly watching TV?  Something heavy, hard had been smashed over his head.  And then Ben had the feeling that he had been dragged, dragged outside to the backyard.  And for the first time he felt the rug burns on his arms.  Yes, definitely dragged from the carpeted living room to out back behind the house.  The head injury, Ben knew, was affecting his thoughts.  His head ached so bad, he closed his eyes, drifting to different places, maybe even sleeping a little.

 

          “You never understood, Ben.  And you never will!” 

 

And then Ben felt himself being jerked around.  He opened his eyes and his head was back into the water again.  His eyes were burning.  He quickly shut them.  He felt himself go farther into the deep end of the pool.  The water hit his chest; he was being held down and couldn’t move.  The color of his gray T-shirt grew darker and became heavy.  And then the suffocation feeling was back.  The pressure of the water, the pain—like penetrating needles. 

But, just like before, Ben felt himself being quickly extracted from the water.  More coughing, more choking, but he could breathe.  And , Ben wondered, was this what being tortured felt like?

 

          “Think about when we were younger, at the dinner table.”  Ben heard the hatred in Bill’s voice, the anger and resentment.  But he still didn’t understand why.

 

          “Bill, I think—” Ben felt the hardness of the concrete again as his face hit the pavement.  He could see his own blood mix with pool water and trickle down into the grass.

 

          “Or maybe our T-ball games, all the sports we played together.”

 

          “Bill you’re not making any sense!”  And as the words left Ben’s mouth, he regretted them.  He felt his head jerk back as his hair was pulled and his face lifted upward.  The cut on his head was hit and he felt his whole body explode in white, fiery pain.  He could feel Bill’s hot breath on his neck, tried to see his attacker’s eyes, but just saw tears.  Bill was crying, but just like himself, Bill never cried.  What was happening?  Why?

 

          “Then think about it, Benny.”  It was a whisper, almost too low to hear.  And for the first time Ben thought he heard fear in Bill’s voice.  He didn’t like it.  He felt fear, himself, and somehow wondered if they were both afraid, then why was this happening?  “Think about what I told you,” Bill said, “and it will all make sense.”

 

          Ben felt his hair being released, and then his face hit the concrete again.  A new cut spread across his cheek, and the taste of blood was back.  He heard Bill behind him, making noise, doing something, and for the first time the feeling of pressure was gone, but his surroundings twirled around him as if he were standing in a circle. 

 

He felt like he was losing it, going in and out of consciousness again.  His thoughts were coming and leaving randomly.  He saw a kitchen table, maybe wooden, but that was it.  He couldn’t see anything else.  He tried, but more details weren’t available.  Not yet anyway, and he blamed his head wound.  He tried to focus, think.  The memory was getting closer, but he still couldn’t see it completely.  And then he saw dinner plates, his parents, and his brother, even himself.  His father was holding something.  Jesus, what was it?  Finally, maybe with his brother’s help, he saw the past a little more clearly.

 

          It was routine.  The four of them would always sit at the dinner table, sharing daily stories and passing plates of food around.  And then it would get to be that time.  They wouldn’t even need a warning.  Ben and Bill would just look at each other and know what was coming next. 

 

Their father would hold out each of their grade cards, and just like always, he would go down the class list, reading each grade aloud one by one.  To no surprise, Ben would get straight “A’s” again, and as his father referred to it, would get rewarded.  Another routine gesture: Their father would open his wallet, take out a couple bills, and proudly hand them over to the smart son. 

 

But the same never happened for Bill.  Bill never got straight “A’s”, and as a result never got rewarded, but punished.  After Bill was ridiculed, asked to be more like his brother, he would be sent to do the dishes, and given no dessert.  It was always like that, dinner and the rewards and punishments, every time grade cards were sent home.  The smart son and the not-so smart son.   

 

          “So, what do you think?”  Bill asked.

 

          “Bill, I-I—I know how horrible—”

 

          “That’s just the tip of the iceberg.  Keep remembering, force yourself to think about why this is happening.  It’s the least you could do.”

 

          Ben’s mind was taking him places again.  It was almost as if he had no control.  He blamed his head injury, or maybe it was his brother’s insistency, wanting him to go to these certain places.  Maybe Bill was controlling his thoughts, he wasn’t sure.  But once again his mind traveled, and just like before, little pieces of memory soon turned into a full-blown recurrence of their past.

 

          The T-ball games were always the same.  Just like any sport, Ben would excel and Bill would fall behind.  Ben would hit the ball to the outfield and Bill would hit a fly ball to the first baseman.  It never failed, Ben had the brains and athletic skills, and Bill had neither.  And just like always, rewards and punishments would follow.  There would be ice cream for Ben, the star player.  And for Bill, the disappointment, there would be a night full of drills and practices at the house after the game to try and make him a better player. 

Ben could always feel his brother’s pain.  While he was eating ice cream with their mother, he just knew his brother was aching inside.  But no matter how much their father tried or pushed, it never worked.  Ben and Bill continued to be the good son and the bad son.

 

          Then there was the accident that one late night of practicing.  Well, it was called an accident, anyway.  Ben remembered pieces, tried to remember even more.  But he hadn’t been there.  It had only been Bill and their father.  Their father pitching the ball to Bill, Bill not seeing the small ball in the dark.  And then the small, hard ball hitting Bill’s nose, creating a permanent distinction between the two brothers, between Ben and Bill forever.

 

          “What do you think now, Benny Boy?  Was dad right?  Am I a disappointment?”

 

          Ben couldn’t help himself, he was crying again.  Was Bill traveling with him, remembering and reliving these terrible encounters?  Why hadn’t he understood before?  Ben couldn’t help but beat himself up, now.  Why had everyone let it go so far?

 

          “Bill, you know—”

 

          “You’re just like them, like Dad.”  And Ben could tell that Bill was crying again, too.

 

          “No, Bill, I love you!  I know that it hasn’t always seemed that way, but it’s you and me, Bill.  We’re the same.  You’re the other part of me!”

 

          “Really, the other part of you?  You abandoned me!  What did you say to me last week?”

 

          Ben was taken aback.  Last week?  He closed his eyes, tried to see it, let the memory play out.  Last week, yes, last Tuesday night they had gone out to some local bar.  A lot of people were there, home for summer break.  Ben thought it had been rock and roll on the jukebox, was almost sure there had been the smell of beer and cigarette smoke.  And then Ben remembered Bill sitting in the back of the bar, by himself, drinking water.  And then there was someone asking him, “What’s wrong with your brother?”  And he heard his own voice answering with something like “Oh, he’s just not man enough to handle a real drink.”

 

          “It’s exactly what Dad would have said.”

 

          Ben was pulled from his reverie and looked up at his older brother.  He could see his eyes, see the pain and frustration.  It all made sense now.  “Bill, I’m sorry—”

 

          “It’s too late to apologize.”  The calmness of his brother’s voice scared Ben.  “And what’s the point?  Mom and Dad never did, never cared.  It was all about you, all about the good son, and now you’re just like them.”

 

          “Bill—”

 

          “But don’t worry. I’m taking care of that, now.”  Again, Ben felt himself being lifted, now to a standing position.  Bill was doing something to the rope that bound his hands, tightening it?

 

          “You don’t have to do this.”

 

          “Oh, but I do, Benny Boy, I do.”  Ben tried to stiffen his body, become like a statue, but Bill was strong.  Bill led him to the far side of the pool, close to the edge now, close to the deep end.”

 

          “Bill, please—” But a door slam from the front of the house stopped him.  Was someone else home, now? Would someone come to the backyard in time? Save him?

 

          “Right on time,” Bill said, “that’s Dad.”

 

          “Dad!” Ben screamed.  “Dad, out here!”

 

          Bill covered Ben’s mouth.  “Shhh! You’re going to ruin the surprise.”

 

          The whisper in his ear made Ben shiver.  He tried to scream again, couldn’t.

 

          “It’s taking so much planning, don’t ruin it now.  Dad’s going to come out here, and do you know what he’s going to see?”

 

          Ben shook his head, not sure he wanted to know the answer.

 

          “Well, you’re going to be in twelve feet of water, struggling to stay afloat, and I’m going to be hanging from that clothesline.”  Ben was pivoted to see what Bill was talking about.  His brother had removed all of the drying swimsuits and created a noose out of the long, wire clothesline.  There was a small, three-step ladder off to the side.

 

          “It’s just too perfect!  The good son versus the bad son.  Which one do you think will win?  Which one do you think dad will save?”

 

          Ben trembled; more tears came.  This was crazy. He knew there wouldn’t be time for his father to save both of them.  Only one could survive, but at the same time, both could die.  Is this what Bill wanted?  To die, to see his twin brother die?

 

          “On the count of three,” Bill said.  “One . . . two . . . three !”

 

Ben was pushed and hit the cold water and immediately began to sink.  With his hands tied he couldn’t swim.

 

          Ben tried to scream, but water rushed into his mouth, entered his lungs, and his body was burning again.  He felt like he was on fire.  He needed air. 

 

          And then, from the bottom of the pool, he saw his brother, Bill.  Bill stepped onto the ladder, fashioned the clothesline noose around his neck, and jumped off. 

 

           Ben met his brother’s eyes, and Bill winked.  But then Ben saw tears, knew his brother was now struggling to breathe too.

 

          Ben struggled, wiggled his arms, and then felt the ropes around his hands start to give.  They were pulling apart.  And then Ben knew, Bill hadn’t tightened them, he had loosened them.  Did Bill want him to survive?  The ropes gave again, and Ben could now feel himself floating back up to the surface.  He pushed upward.  But why would Bill—

 

          Ben saw his father come running from the house.  His father edged around Bill struggling with the clothesline, dove into the water, and then Ben felt himself being brought to the surface.

 

          He was coughing, but still managed to scream.  “No! Get Bill, save Bill! He needs you!”

 

          “It’s okay, you’re going to be fine!”

 

          “But Bill’s not! Help him!”  Ben tried.  Even when he was taken to the poolside ladder, he rushed up it, ran around to his brother’s side, yanked at the clothesline. 

 

It was too late.  Bill was gone.  The good son had won.  And Ben felt a terrible hole in his stomach, knowing he had lost part of himself.

 

          “Ben, I’m sorry.  Your brother—”

 

          “My brother was right!” Ben yelled, turning toward his dad, taking in his father’s wet suit and unemotional expression.

 

          “Bill was sick. He—he tried to kill you.”

 

          “No, he didn’t.” Ben shook his head.  “He loosened the ropes. He was never going to kill me.  It was all a test.”

 

          “I-I don’t understand.”

 

          “That’s the problem. None of us did, till it was too late.” 

 

          Ben turned to his brother, reached for his hand.  Nothing had changed, and it never would.  Ben had everything; Bill had nothing.  Ben was surrounded by loved ones; Bill was alone.  Ben was alive, and now Bill . . . well, Bill was gone. 

 

          And then Ben was left with one final image: his emotionless father standing in front of his lifeless, hanging brother—villain and victim.

         

 

 

Awake

 

 

Cutter Slagle

 

 

Jumped from bed

breathing heavily

shaking, sweating.

Blonde hair pasted

to damp forehead.

A distant sound;

breaking glass,

smooth ripping

of screen.

Imagination?

That guy,

from the news,

always in black.

Boots.

Sweatshirt.

Ski mask.

Killing women;

three, maybe more.

She could be next.

Tiptoeing across

cool tiled floor,

tightly gripping

silver handle,

throwing open

the door.

Relief.

It’s just Tom.

A second glance

at her husband,

supposed to be working.

Dressed in black.

Boots.

Sweatshirt.

Holding something,

ski mask.

His face

eyes glazed,

shining.

Teeth bore,

smirking.

Instantly,

she knows.

 

 

 

 

 

The Rules

 

Cutter Slagle

 

 

He wakes every morning

at eight on the dot.

A seven-minute shower,

khaki pants and collared shirt,

always a small bowl of oatmeal

and two big cups of coffee—black.

 

Routine.

 

Work from nine to five

at the tedious office job;

shuffling files and forms,

pretending to give a damn,

stuck in the tiny glass cubicle

keeping to himself, speaking to no one.

 

Don’t leave anything behind.

 

Clocking out on the hour,

heading back home now;

he never pushes his car,

a discrete, dark blue Honda

over the 35 mph speed limit.

in no way drawing attention to himself.

 

Never someone you know.

 

Finally, precisely at eleven,

he leaves his vehicle in the garage

and begins carefully walking.

Six blocks away, his destination waits.

He’s been in the house before,

but not as a guest.

 

The rules of serial killing.

 

 

Cutter Slagle is from Huntsville, Ohio.  He began writing in middle school during seventh grade and graduated from Indian Lake High School in 2006.  He is a twenty-one year old senior at The Ohio State University where he is working toward a major in English and a minor in creative writing.  He has written numerous short stories and is currently working on a novel.  He enjoys reading many different authors and genres in his free time. 

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