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Dark Tales from Gent's Pens

James Kompany: Bragging Rights

ym_94_braggigrights_jsowder.jpg
Art by John Sowder 2022

Bragging Rights

 

by James Kompany

 

Thompson, Pennsylvania has always held a special place in my heart.  It was where I grew up--my home town.  Thompson was your typical suburbia of the 1960’s; streets lined with overgrown oak trees created a shady oasis on those hot summer days.  Old Victorian houses proudly stood guard over their neatly manicured lawns.  On any given day, you could hear children of all ages playing in the streets.  They knew it was time to come home when the street lights came on and when they heard the sound of their mothers’ voices calling their names.  At that time, crime was all but nonexistent.  Most people kept their doors unlocked and slept with their windows open.  Neighbors watched out for one another.  It was a different era—a cleaner era.  It was an era of innocence and family values—a much simpler time indeed.

 The town center consisted mainly of mom-and-pop shops and the municipal building, which housed the police and fire departments.  The only other notable landmark in Thompson was the McClure Asylum for the Clinically Insane, which stood atop Roosevelt Hill.  Located on the highest point in town, this towering structure overlooked the entire Thompson Square.  McClure was a century-old fortress originally built as a prison to house Civil War detainees.  After the war ended, it remained operational as a state prison.  However, over the years, budget cuts and deterioration caused McClure to shut down.  It wasn’t until years later that it was resurrected and transformed into its current role:  a maximum-security facility for psychopaths and sociopaths alike.  They may have escaped their minds, but there is no escaping McClure. 

Back in its heyday, Thompson had a lot to offer its residents.  There was no shortage of activities for both the young and old.  The highlight of every year came in the fall when the crisp autumn air and sweet scent of freshly baked apple pie could be smelled throughout the entire neighborhood.  These were instant indicators the season had arrived.  The Thompson Fall Festival was the anchor of this glorious time.  Each year, this gala commenced on October 24 and culminated on October 30, Halloween Eve.  Besides rides, food, and entertainment, the fair also held a contest that quickly became an obsession for most of the local children. 

The basis was quite simple:  design the most creatively decorated haunted attraction.  All of the patrons at the festival got to vote for their favorite display.  The reason the tradition started was to bring both children and adults together during this special time of year.  Young boys and their fathers would spend hours on the weekends designing scenery, rudimentary mannequins, and other types of props.   Mothers and daughters would sew costumes for the newly developed creations.  Although the festival was only a week long, the gates opened a week early for the contestants.  This gave us two full weeks to create our designs.  And believe me, every day counted.  The rules were clear.  All entrants received a space at the fair to construct their scenery.  These spaces were private and cordoned off to ensure secrecy.  Because we followed a code-of-honor system, no one was able to see finished projects until unveiling them on Halloween Eve.  As time passed and the popularity of the Thompson Fall Festival grew, a competitive nature really began to emerge.  Bragging rights were at stake.  And let’s face it--for an adolescent male, bragging rights for an entire year meant everything. 

Lenny Young was three years my senior.  He came from a very prominent and affluent family.  His grandfather started a coal-mining company at the turn of the century.  Lenny’s father was currently in charge of the company.  However, it was only a matter of time until Lenny took over the entire lucrative operation.  For the last five years, Lenny dominated the competition.  He used his cronies--Brett Cox, brothers Rusty and Matt Harper, Roger Carlson, Manny Rivera, and Andrew Corrigan--to help him overcome and demolish any formidable adversary who attempted to take his crown.  Breaking into private booths to steal or destroy props was common practice amongst this group of heathens.  They would intimidate and bully other kids into voting for Lenny’s designs, even using physical force when necessary.  And when all else failed, Lenny would ask his father to use his influence to politic for him in order to get the winning votes.  It got so bad that other kids stopped entering the contest.  Nobody wanted to deal with Lenny’s wrath.  He could be relentless.  Looking back, it was truly pathetic the lengths these boys went to just to win some silly childhood contest.  To this day, it still boggles my mind that none of the adults in town had the courage to step in and stop the nonsense.  I suppose this was because a lot of the men in Thompson collected their paychecks from Lenny’s dad.  Many of them worked at his facility in one capacity or another. 

My dad, on the other hand, was different.  He had been a hard-working man—up every morning at five and off to his place on the assembly line at the Thompson Electrical Components Factory.  He’d tried his hardest to provide for us, but always seemed to fall a little short.  It wasn’t because he hadn’t had the work ethic.  He just couldn’t shy away from the bottle of whiskey waiting for him at the end of his shift.  He’d pissed away every dollar he made at the local tavern, Morley McGovern’s, leaving us practically penniless.

This vicious cycle had continued up until the time I turned ten.  I remember Dad coming home drunk one night and telling Mother, my brother Jack, and me that he was going out west to Colorado to work at some stereo equipment store that one of his war buddies had started.  He was supposed to be the lead electronics man.  He’d told us everything was going to work out and he would be able to move the rest of the family out there as soon as he’d gathered enough money.  In the meantime, he’d promised to send back money each week to help Mother with the expenses.  I’d known at the time these were empty promises, and that we would never see Dad again. 

Needless to say, his alcoholism had followed him in his westward journey.  What’s more, the store had soon gone out of business, leaving Dad unemployed and eventually homeless.  He’d ended up begging for money during the day and drinking it away on the streets at night.  Mother had received a call from authorities informing her they’d found my father dead outside a pool hall in a seedy part of Colorado Springs.  All he’d had in his possession was one dollar and 38 cents, his old work identification card from Thompson Electrical, and a picture of Jack and me as children.  Mother hadn’t had the money to have his body shipped back east.  So, they’d buried Dad in a potter’s field where he remains today.  From that point on, it was official.  We were on our own:  Mother, Jack, and me.

To say mother had her hands full trying to raise Jack and me would be an understatement.  While I was the rebellious one, Jack had his own set of issues because of his condition.  He had nearly drowned as a child, leaving him with severe brain damage.  Physically, Jack was a fully developed adult male.  He was as strong as an ox, but had the mentality of a six-year-old.  He was unable to understand the difference between right and wrong.  Jack was never far from Mother’s side and seldom left the familiar confines of our childhood home.  Mother had to tell him what to do at all times.  From my earliest recollections, she never had a free moment to herself.  There is little doubt in my mind that the constant and relentless attention Jack required contributed to Mother’s own health problems.  She slowly deteriorated over the years until the stress and burden eventually caught up to her.  It wasn’t until years later that the magnitude revealed itself.  Mother suffered a stroke and lingered in a semi-catatonic state.  The good Lord finally called her home three years later.  

The year Dad left, I was determined to create the most realistic Halloween scenery ever, finally beating Lenny Young at his own game.  I was the only kid who didn’t give a damn about what he could do to me.  So, it was just the two of us in an adolescent showdown for bragging rights.  And like I said before, for a kid in a go-nowhere town like Thompson, a year of bragging rights was worth its weight in gold.  

I worked tirelessly both day and night, before and after school.  Although it was tough at first, I got the hang of it pretty quickly.  The night of judging was only a week away, and things were really coming together nicely.  I constructed a giant graveyard, pieced together a few mannequins, and dressed them with some clothes Dad left behind.  I even stuffed them with sand to give them more weight.  Then, I put the mannequins in coffins I built out of old pieces of timber from an abandoned barn on Warren Avenue.  The whole thing looked pretty realistic in the dark.  In fact, I was so confident, I began boasting to my classmates about my inevitable pending victory.  But as you can imagine, living in a fishbowl of a town like Thompson, it didn’t take long for word to get back to Lenny. 

I still remember the day he and his lackeys cornered me in the locker room during gym class.  

“Listen, penis breath.  You better withdraw from the contest if you know what’s good for you.”

“Not a chance,” I shot back, as I laughed in his face. 

That’s when things really got ugly.  

First, Andrew Corrigan sucker punched me.  He was always the weasel of the group.  Although stunned, I tried my hardest to fight my way out of there, throwing wild punches in every direction.  However, my futile attempt at defending myself only fueled their rage.  Coming at me from all sides, they quickly overwhelmed me.  The Harper brothers held down my arms as Lenny, Brett, and Roger took turns punching and kicking me.  Manny stood guard at the door to make sure no teachers were coming.  The more I struggled to break free, the more furious the beating. 

The whole time, Lenny kept taunting me with insults.

“What’s the matter, Jimbo?  Your dead drunken dad isn’t here to help you?  Maybe you should call your mommy.  That whore’s probably at home wiping your retarded brother’s ass.” 

These words echoed in my ears and burned into my brain.  When I could no longer stand on my own two feet, the Harper brothers dropped me directly into a piss-filled urinal.  Bloodied and semi-conscious, I remember getting spit on and hearing the sound of sinister laughter. 

The last thing I recalled before blacking out was Lenny’s voice.

“Now let’s go see what this panty waste has been up to.” 

Eventually, I regained consciousness and dragged myself to the fair grounds.  I found someone had cut the lock on my stall and destroyed all of my creations.  As my anger grew, I became determined to rebuild.  I would have to start from scratch with less than a week to finish.

 

***

On October 30th, the day of the contest, Lenny found a note stuck to his locker at school.  It was from Roger.

Jimmy hasn’t quit.  He’s been rebuilding all week.  Meet me and the rest of the boys there tonight.  We’ll wreck his work and finish this little asswipe once and for all.

-Roger”

Lenny was incensed.  He could hardly wait until night fall to rush down to the fair to teach me a lesson for the last time.  At exactly seven p.m., one hour before the opening of the contestant area to the public, Lenny hopped the fence only to find me waiting for him.

“Hello, Leonard.  How’s it going?” 

Perhaps it was the tone of my voice, or the devilish look in my eyes.  It could have even been that I called him by his birth name.  No matter.  Lenny’s instincts had told him something just wasn’t right. 

“I bet you’re wondering where everyone is:  Brett, Rusty, Matt, Manny, Roger, Andrew.  They were supposed to meet you here, weren’t they?” 

Beads of sweat formed on Lenny’s brow.  He began to fidget as he stood anxiously before me.

“Relax, Lenny.  You’re not alone.  All your friends are here.  As a matter of fact, here comes Roger now.”

As if on cue, a large, hulking figure emerged from the darkness--my brother Jack.  He held the severed head of Roger Carlson in his hand, and stuck it on top of a stake protruding out of the ground.  Jack was also dragging the headless corpse by one of its feet and released it at the foot of the stake.  I plugged in an extension cord, illuminating a massacre of bloody carnage.

A long steel rod pierced the anus of Brett Cox.  It traveled deep through his thoracic cavity and exited his mouth.  He had been hog-tied and placed on a make-shift barbecue rotisserie.  He was slowly roasting over an open flame.  The rancid smell of burnt flesh lingered and permeated the cool evening air.  Embers creeped higher and higher as the oily meat particles seeped off his carcass and dripped into the pit of fire.

The Harper brothers were naked, seated back to back, and wrapped tightly together with duct tape.  Rusty sat disemboweled, his innards spilled in his lap and scattered on the ground below.  Matt’s genitals protruded from his mouth after being severed and stuffed there.  His body was stark white from the voluminous loss of blood.

Manny Rivera had the claw end of a hammer buried so deep into the back of his cranium that only the wooden shaft was still visible.  Blood careened from his mouth, nose, and ears.

An old-fashioned Whitehead gag propped open Andrew Corrigan’s mouth.  An empty bottle of hydrochloric acid lay at his feet.  Both his top and bottom lips had completely disintegrated.  The flesh from his cheeks and chin had liquified, leaving his lower mandible openly exposed.  Festering puss oozed over his facial tendons, while his teeth remained anchored into his jaw-bone, forming a skeletal death mask.

For Lenny Young, it was as if time stood still.  He was completely frozen and paralyzed with fear.  Although his mouth was open, he could not speak.  Only the sound of urine trickling down his trembling leg onto the ground below broke the silence. 

“You pompous piece of shit!  Your own arrogance blinded you that you didn’t even realize one by one your friends started to disappear.  All that concerned you was humiliating me yet again!” 

I took a deep breath and calmed myself in order to savor the moment.  

“So what do you think, buddy?  Not too bad, huh?  I think this year I finally have you beat.  You know, Jack and I really worked hard on this.  We put in a helluva lot of effort--and in such a short period of time too.  You really didn’t leave us much choice after you and your crew wrecked my original designs the other day.  Truth be told, I should probably thank you.  Clearly, this new display is much more realistic than that boring old graveyard.  I guess in a weird way, you actually inspired me.  At first, I really didn’t know how I was going to pull this off.  But then I thought of Jack.  He’s always willing to help me any way he can--does anything I ask him to.  When I told him what happened and what I needed, he was more than eager to get started.”

Suddenly realizing his fate, Lenny sobbed uncontrollably and began to beg for his life.

“Jimmy, I’m sorry.  I…I didn’t mean any of it.  I always liked you.  It was the other guys.  They made me do it.  They hated you.  Not me.  Please, Jimmy.  I don’t want to die.  I just want to go home--” 

“Enough!  Come on, Lenny.  Stop all that whining and blubbering.  It’s really unbecoming of someone of your stature.”

“But please, Jimmy.  Pleeeease...”

“Aren’t you at least a little impressed?  I thought the hard part was going to be luring each one of you parasites into our little trap.  It turned out that was the easiest part of all.  You know that note you got on your locker telling you to meet Roger here?  Well, all of you dipshits got the same damn note!  Every last one of you thought you were invincible--thought you could have carte blanche to do whatever you wanted…without consequences for your actions.  Well, Lenny, Jack and I are here to tell you differently.  But I guess none of that really matters now.” 

“No, Jimmy!  No!”

“Jeez, look at the time.  It’s getting late.  People are starting to file in already.  The voting will start soon.  I suppose the only thing left to do is put the finishing touch on our project here and hope for the best.  The crowd is really going to love what we did.  I can feel it in my bones.”

“Oh my God!  Please, don’t do this, Jimmy!  I’m begging you!”

“Yes siree.  I can feel it in my bones.  Speaking of bones, I think the perfect addition to this masterpiece would be a life-sized skeleton.  Yes, that’s what we need.  Do you agree, Lenny?  I know Jack does.”

“Uh huh.  Jack agrees, Jimmy.”

“I know you do, Jack.  You’re such a good boy.  Let’s show Lenny just how good you are.  Show him what you can do.  Skin him alive, Jack!  Skin the bastard alive!”

Jack pounced on Lenny with the quickness and ferocity of a lion capturing a gazelle.  The mass of his 260-pound frame made Lenny easy prey.  The noises of the carnival drowned out the shrieks of agony and cries for help.  And thus, Lenny Young was forever immortalized as part of the main attraction at the Thompson Fall Festival.  It really was quite an honor.  And I got my bragging rights for a long, long time.

Epilogue

That was so many years ago.  Yet, I remember it like it was yesterday.  Thompson has certainly changed a lot since then.  It really is a shame.  At least I can still see the fairgrounds from my room though.  I wonder if there will ever be another contest.  Jack and I would love to defend our title.  Being locked up in McClure all of these years has given us plenty of time to think of new ideas for an even bigger and better display. 

“Isn’t that right, Jack?”

“Uh huh.  Jack thinks that’s right, Jimmy.”

  “You know, it’s almost time for lunch, Jack.  I wonder what they’re serving today. Maybe fish sticks…or sloppy joes.  You really likes sloppy joes.” 

“Uh huh.  Jack likes sloppy joes, Jimmy.”

“Or maybe it’s hot dogs…or chicken fingers.  Those are your favorite.”

“Uh huh.  Jack’s favorite are chicken fingers, Jimmy.”

“You’re such a good boy.”






James Kompany has been a police officer in North Jersey for nearly 20 years and is married with two children. He loves to cook—mainly Mediterranean (Greek and Southern Italian are his favorites), and he makes homemade pizza that is killer. The only thing better than his pizza is his chili—He is the two- time defending champ for chili cook-off at his local dive bar (He considers this title as important as the birth of his children—that's how serious he takes his chili). He brews homemade beer and has recently turned to wine collecting. He prefers reds—anything from the Tuscany region (Brunello, Barolo, etc.). He has a soft spot for animals, and he currently has two cats.


He loves to travel and has been overseas number of times. His favorite city of all time, hands-down, is New Orleans—down and dirty—he loves everything about the Big Easy. He exercises daily: weight training, cycling, hiking, circuit training. He studied finance in college and has a BS in Finance from the University of Scranton and an MBA in Finance from Saint John's University.


He enjoys art (paintings) and reading military history, true crime, and biographies of any kind.


From the hollows of Kentucky, John Sowder divides his spare time between creating art for Sugar Skull Press and working on various cryptid-themed projects.  He illustrated GEORGE THE HOLIDAY SPIDER by Rick Powell, which is due November of this year.  You can see more of his art at www.deviantart.com/latitudezero  


In Association with Black Petals & Fossil Publications 2022