October Cries: The War of the Islands By Kenji Bohlin
DRAFT #6.1
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.-
Alfred, Lord Tennyson

It rained that miserable day. That cold, sad day in late October. Rain fell on the black umbrellas that blossomed when the first drops hit. Rain fell on the slick concrete slabs that decorated the hillside in even rows. Rain fell on the open grave that would soon bloom a new granite flower.

Alice stood away from the crowd, leaning a gainst a tree for support. Her shoulder length red hair hung pasted to her skull and down the back of her neck. Her black blouse and long black skirt hung soaked. Her face was wet--from tears or rain, she was not sure.

Over the patter of the rainfall, she could hear the priest's sad litany: "...souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace." It came in waves, his monotone voice, audible and discernable one moment, a meaningless mumble the next. The shiny, ash coffin began to lower, the small lift engine just reaching Alice's ears through the Tears of God. A wealth of flowers descending to the earth, Scyld's funeral ship was sinking into the Norse Sea.

"Jesus, Alice, forget your umbrella?" Alice turned her gaze on the musical voice that was filled with disgust. Laura Harbor. Prom Queen. Queen bitch. She was so filled with her popularity at Saint George's that she thought she deserved worship. And practically got it.

Cindy Fletcher and Amy Duncan flanked her on either side. All three looked immaculate, wearing newly bought clothes for this special event, this "fashion show."

"Laura, she's been through so much. I don't think she really cares about getting wet," Cindy scolded, motherly patience in her voice. "But Alice dear, you really should dry off or you might catch cold." Cindy Fletcher. Always the cheerful, comforting "friend." Only problem was, in her eyes, you were a kindergartner capable of nothing more than amusement and in constant need of direction.

Amy Duncan smiled and nodded in agreement. She always nodded in agreement. Always agreed with Cindy, or Laura, or any of the other beautiful people. You could count on her being with one of them anytime you saw her. She lacked the possession of her own character, always mimicking that of those around her, always a leech of the "inner circle." But alone, away from the hubbub of being cool, away from this and that--away from it all--she was quite nice. Once, Amy and Alice were friends. Once.

"In the room the women come and go . . ." Alice barely whispered.

Laura blinked and looked at her, "What did you say?" She shook her head and "apologized," "I'm sorry, Alice." The statement seemed forced. She hugged Alice. The redhead didn't return the "affection."

"Yo, Laura!" A voice snaked though the rain. John Beckard's voice. Quarterback. Pompous jerk. "Let's GO!" The three girls waved bye as they walked away. Alice turned her head without waving.

". . . Talking of Michelangelo," she finished, smiling a secret smile to herself, almost laughing. Her eyes fell on the grave again and the smile disappeared. She pulled out a pack of Marlboro's, unopened. Tearing the package, she placed the wrapper in her pocket and a smoke to her lips. Lighting the cigarette quickly with a chrome Zippo, she inhaled, the burning nicotine passing into her mouth, into her lungs. Exhaling, she felt a tingling passing through her nostrils. Holding the cigarette up, Alice watched as a lazy stream of gray trailed up off the glowing orange embers. It'd been a while since she had had a smoke. A long while.

Her face was wet, but now she knew that she was crying. There was now a sense of finality to this whole event.

Without thinking, she took the butt of the Marlboro and pressed it to her palm. Sizzling, burnt flesh accompanied searing pain. She screamed against the rain as it picked up.

Earlier that October

Cold hung in the six o'clock morning air when twilight hit the Wick household. A radio alarm clock clicked on: "...morning you wonderful people and thanks for tuning in to WWAR." A hand snaked from the electrically heated blankets and hit the snooze. "Today's high a chilling--" Another nine minutes and the process was repeated. At 6:27, after the fourth repetition, Alice bolted up in bed, a dizzy spell slammed into her. She lay back down.

At 6:34, seven minutes later, she was in the shower, attempting to wash away sleep.

At 6:41, she was stuffing burnt toast into her mouth in an empty kitchen. Both parents were at work now (as usual). The daily waltz of Routine was being danced again after countless other such affairs in the Ball of Life.

At 6:46, she had her white teeth brushed, red hair braided down her neck, Saint George Catholic High plaid skirt on, along with Saint George Catholic High white Oxford and black sweater (not a Saint George Catholic High piece of apparel) along with necklaces, rings, and a touch of black eye-liner. She was out the door, in her old beige Ford Escort, and driving through the cold, mid October suburb of Eastholmes.

Jerry stretched out six hours of sleep while sitting in the corner of the cafeteria at Saint George Catholic High. He sipped once on his Coke and scribbled some thoughts down in a green spiral notebook in front of him.

No one sat near him. No one talked to him. And he was content. "Hey Jerry, you going to the Homecoming this Saturday?" It was Cindy Fletcher. Her current boyfriend from the pool of popularity was Tim Roberts, who stood with his arm draped around the pristine princess and a smug smile painted on his yuppie boy face.

Her voice was filled with saccharine sweetness, the mocking kind. "No, I have other plans," he said with equal grace, a cloying grace. "But I'm sure that you're going." He balanced his words so that the statement sounded friendly.

"You really should try to go," Cindy smiled, tilting her head to the side as though to address a four-year-old. "I mean, this is your Senior year and all."

He shrugged his shoulders, "So?"

"So? You only have one more year in High School left. You'll regret it." She smiled a perfect smile, showing off her ordered rows of white teeth, then walked away, whispering something to Tim. They laughed and walked on.

"Don't you just love her?" Another female voice. A sarcastic voice. He turned his head on the latest intruder into his life: a redhead who was regarding him with a "don't try it with me" look.

"Oh, hi Alice." He yawned and looked down at his notebook.

"Jer, you seen Holly?" the redhead asked, sitting down. "I have something to give her." She pulled out a folder from her backpack.

"No, haven't seen her."

There was a pause. Jerry could tell that she was anxious for him to ask her what she had. Probably another story, but he didn't want to give her the pleasure.

"I've been working on it for some time in Science and I'm sure Holly wants to read it. . ." She tapped her black fingernails against the yellow folder, the demanding rhythm of Wait. "I want to see what she thinks of it. It deals with extremes, but I hope it's not too far fetched." Jerry was having trouble keeping the smile from his face. He covered his mouth and pretended to yawn. He wasn't going to bite. This was too fun.

Finally, in a bout of impatience, she pulled a packet of stapled paper, printing decorating the neat white leafs, and handed it to him. He calmly put his pen down and focused his eyes on the packet. "Islands by Alice Wick."

"Theme?" he asked, flipping through the story. 13 pages.

"Life. Our lives. 'Bout how people judge us--and other 'weirdos' like us--on appearance alone. We are 'evil' in their eyes, but good in truth. Out of this suffering, we can really see people for what they truly are."

"'We are Sight amidst the Blind,'" Jerry quoted from his notebook. A saying that he was proud of. "I've got something kinda like what you're talking about. Just thoughts really. Want to read?" he asked, flipping through his notebook.

"Sure." He found the page and slid it in front of Alice.

Mother, who held me when I was young,
I danced in your arms to your music sung.
But life was sheltered, you covered my eyes . . .
Moon Stars Dawn Rise

I grow older, emerged from your arms,
I opened my eyes, saw the Tiger that harms.
You stood back, Mother, and let me go . . .
Mind Thought Sight Know

I picked my path, my path alone.
I lived my live; and moaned my moan.
But it was my live, was my moan . . .
Self Dance Fly Own

I entered the kingdom--the kingdom of man--
Where nobles bow heads; make angels in sand.
Fashions are uniforms created by Queens . . .
Earth Form Rule Teens

But I'm not pattern, I don't like their Law,
The tiger looked 'round, didn't like what I saw.
So I co-exist, yet I live apart . . .
Lone 'Skirts Air Heart

"Tiger! Tiger! burning bright."
There are others in the night.
Laughing with the people show,
Yet sailing 'gainst the river flow.
Kaleidoscope lives--some poor, some grand--
But all gaijin in their own lands.
It's from these nobody someones I draw my fortitude . . .
Strength Friends Fire Mood

"Beautiful," Alice smiled, sliding it back. "Ya know, some people might not just call it thoughts but poetry."

"Thanks. If it's poetry, it's incomplete. Everything in here is incomplete," he said, slipping the green spiral into his black back pack. "But it's my work. My Manifesto. Part of me. And it won't be completed until I'm completed. Not done until I'm done." He smiled. "To be continued."

Alice laughed, a genuine laugh. "You can keep that copy of Islands. Oh, and If you see Holly, tell her I'm lookin' for her."

People filed into class at the bell's familiar ring. Another day of Physics 101 began with a prayer mumbled in the raspy voice of Mr. Thompson, Science teacher extraordinaire. Alice took her seat in the back of the room, in the corner next to Holly, who always seemed to get there early.

"Hey," Alice whispered, taking her seat in the uncomfortable desk. Holly nodded back before sitting. "You all hyped about the Pep Rally?" she asked sarcastically.

"Oh yeah," Holly smiled. "Go Lions, go." She reached into her bag and pulled out her notebook. "I heard you were looking for me. New story?"

"New story," Alice replied, handing her Islands.

"I'll read it during the Pep Rally."

"But dear, that's when you're supposed to be offering forth support for our wonderful school." The two began to laugh.

"Quiet, you two," came Mr. Thompson's voice, pure monotone. And thus, learning began. Alice chose to use the time to draw curved abstracts in black permanent marker. Holly got herself locked into day dream mode and soon her eyes were glazed over in quiet wonder. She always seemed to be smiling.

About halfway through class, Alice pulled her head away from her note pad and looked around. A few of the people in the room were laughing at something. There on the other side of the room where the jocks and socials sat in a clump of putrid loathing.

"What's the matter? It's so simple." It was Tim Roberts, mouthing off again. Some thought him funny. Alice didn't.

"Could you please go over it one more time, Mr. Thompson?" Jerry breathed quietly. Alice glanced up at the white board, diagrams of projectile vectors scribbled up on the white with Mr. Thompson's blue marker-script. She had no idea what foreign runes meant, but that was the norm. She usually waited until the day before the test to figure it all out by looking over copied homework. She was one of the gifted who didn't study and managed an A. Jerry . . . Jerry struggled for a B.

"No, Mr. Thompson," Tim cut in as the teacher turned to write about the vector created by a tossed grenade projected hypothetically through hypothetical space. "Why should we have to sit through this when we all get it!?!"

Mr. Thompson wasn't real sure how to answer him. Tim, sensing the science teacher about to fall his way, pushed on: "If he really wants the help, he could come to you after school. I think that he just wants attention and the reputation of being a 'misunderstood child who's messed up in the head.'"

Jerry looked up from his notes, focused directly at Tim, stunned anger dancing across his face.

Jerry: such a nice person. Alice wasn't sure why people picked on him. He was always nice to people, just quiet. His world was in his mind and in his notebook, not at school. Not in society. He was misunderstood. But he didn't want or even care what people thought about him or his rep. And he certainly wasn't messed up in the head.

Jerry was just about to say something, then took a resigned breath and mumbled, "I guess if no one else needs help, we can go on. I'll get it myself." Alice couldn't just sit and watch that triumphant look wash over Tim's face.

She raised her hand while at the same time blurting, "Mr. Thompson, I don't understand it. Could you go over it one more time?" The balding teacher turned around one more time, ready to explain the problem again.

"What!" Tim shouted out, fake shock ringing in his voice, bringing a few chuckles. "She doesn't deserve an explanation. She sits in the back of the room, dreaming about last night when she danced around an altar of candles, singing to the moon or something." Some more laughter. "Just another pothead who'll forget everything you teach anyway. How did she get into this Honors class, anyway? I didn't think they let you in with a D average."

Alice almost broke out laughing. Holly did. Her! a D average?!? "You're so funny," Alice mocked, "like a clown. Didn't I see you rollin' up last night in the woods with Randy Blackburg. Hey, I think that was when I was making my altar to Satan!"

"Enough class, enough!" Mr. Thompson finally managed to get the class under control. "Now I am going to go over this problem one more time. If you still don't get it, see me after school!" With that, he turned around and began his lecture in that flat, lecturing voice of his. That was all Tim said that class.

"Hey, dumb ass, get outta my seat!" Frankie lifted his head and his vision filled with John Beckard. John "The Missile" Beckard. The star quarterback was flanked by his usual entourage: linemen Mike Delving and Randy Blackburg; and class clown slash smart ass Tim Roberts.

They stalked closer to Frankie, who had been previously resting (sleeping) in one of the green cushioned arm chairs in the corner of the Senior Lounge. The "Jock Corner" it was labeled. Frankie didn't care whose corner it was. It was all property of the school. Besides, he shrugged, he was once member of the ping pong club. Everything was cool.

"Are you deaf, stupid? Get out of my god damn chair!" John bellowed, now ten feet away. Frankie just smiled and leaned back.

The buffed primates surrounded him sporting tough-guy frowns, a gathering of wild beasts getting ready to deal with the latest intruder into their marked territory. John Beckard was leader of the pack. "Get up, now," he said with total seriousness and total command.

Frankie leaned forward, in a meaningful way, and answered candidly, "No. I will not stand up for you, for your scum friends, or anyone else."

John's eyes lit with unbridled fury. "You little punk. You . . . will . . . pay!" With that, the 6'3", 230 lb. quarterback picked Frankie out of the seat as though he were no more than a rag doll and slammed him against the wall.

Frankie lost all breath, as getting thrown against a wall tends to do. John and Randy and Tim were laughing, paying homage like insane hyenas to their hollow God.

And then the world flooded back in. Frankie could feel the light switch digging into the small of his back. He could smell the beer putrid breath of Mr. All-American wonderboy in front of him, whose face was inches away. And he could taste the blood leaking in from his broken lip.

Yet he still managed to smile and say (weakly), "Steroids are bad for y--" That earned him another slam against the wall--the moment of panic as his lungs scrambled for air.

"Listen, you little shit," the "Missile" gritted, white spittle flecking out onto Frankie's face, into his eyes. "We don't want your kind around here. You devil

worshipping, black-wearing, death-monging weirdos in our school. When we spray painted the pentagram on your locker, ya didn't take the hint--"

Frankie managed a laugh. A precarious one at that. He realized that he was in trouble-a lot of trouble--but he still had one more trick up his sleeve. And what was this pentagram talk. Then he remembered. "You dumb fuck! That was Jerry's locker you sprayed. Can't even keep us 'Satanists' straight!" Ah ha ha ha ha--

"You talk, Devil boy, when you are allowed. Now let me tell you what's going to happen. First, I'm going to kick the shit out of you. Then my buddies will. Then, I want you to tell all your witch friends to disappear or risk the wrath of the almighty God."

"One last word," Frankie cut in.

"What?" Mike asked, seething annoyance painting his voice.

"THIS!!!" With every scrape of energy he could muster, tripled by the adrenaline running through his world, Frankie drove his knee as hard as "the Almighty God" allowed him with crunching satisfaction into the groin of the "Missile."

The quarterback dropped to the floor like a lightning struck tree, groaning in unimaginable pain. His buddies were stunned beyond belief, staring like brain dead dogs at their fallen master.

Then, they looked at Frankie, pure animal-rage physically shaking their beefed up bodies.

Then one drove a fist into Frankie's chest, snapping two ribs.

Then another slammed his fist into Frankie's mouth, breaking three teeth.

Then Frankie fell to the ground, pummeled by fists, feet, and insults. With closed eyes, you never really see true darkness--always blood-lit red filled the void, intermingling with a universe of burning white sparks--but never darkness. When Frankie hit the ground and slammed his lids shut, he saw darkness.

At the Hospital--A Visit

They went to visit Frankie at the hospital a week later. For two days he lay on the bed under white fluorescents, dreaming coma dreams. He awoke on Wednesday morning, mumbling something about not moving from his seat, that his eyes hurt, and that he was hungry.

Only now was he able to have visitors other than family.

When the group entered, led by Alice, then Holly, trailed by the ever quiet Jerry, they were a joy to his eyes.

"What are you weirdo's doing here?" laughing at the Industrial/Goth troupe. Holly had new combat boots, visible under the long blue dress that nearly touched the floor. Alice had red roses sheathed in green aluminum, in full bloom. Jerry had nothing, holding his head down and looking more thought-induced depressed than usual.

"Just visiting the resident freak," Holly smiled, falling into the yellow upholstered love seat against the windowed wall.

Alice handed him the roses and asked "How do you feel," genuine concern in her eyes.

"I'm fine, just fine." He wasn't. Had trouble sleeping. Pains. But why tell these nice people. He smiled to show his pseudo comfort. Alice wasn't buying and looked at him warily before joining Holly in the chair.

Jerry was leaning against the wall, his head down and his shaggy black hair covering his face. Dressed in black jeans and shirt, he looked like a shadow against the yellow flowered wall paper.

"How 'bout you, Jer--you all right?"

Jerry's answer was a murmur. "No." He raised his head and his eyes were red rimmed. "Don't think so . . ." his voice trailed off. "Not at all . . ."

"What's wrong?" Alice asked, concern ringing her words.

"Everything. Nothing. I . . . I feel sick . . . my stomach--anxious . . . 'bout something. Bad something." Everyone was concerned now. Alice had stood up and was teetering between staying back and walking up. Frankie sat up in bed while Holly looked for something to say. But the room stood silent, pin-dropping silent.

"I'm tired. That's it. Just tired." He slid down the wall to the tiled floor. "I just want to sleep. Dream away all the John Beckards and Laura Harbors. Dream away the superficial world and its superficial ways." He paused, another deathly silence, and looked up. His eyes were stronger, a decision attained, stress lifted. "Have you ever noticed that we are treated differently than most?" It was an obvious question with an obvious answer. He answered it himself. "People seem to strike out at us 'cause of fear or something."

"You're right. You're so right," soothed Alice. Not quite right--Jerry was talking extremes; extremes, not people--but close anyway. "And we all know it. It's our choice."

"But it's not fair. People like Amy Duncan live someone else's life and she doesn't go through the coldness of Hell daily. Here I am, myself, and I do!" He was upset now, rocking back and forth, clutching his knees to his chest.

"Right, Jer! You're right." It was Holly this time. "Would you rather be another Amy, peaking a pitiful life in your teens and moving on to coffee breaks and day time soaps, changing the diapers and phone bills!?! We are who we are and we live with it. There is no other choice." Her voice trailed off, as though speaking to herself, "In my mind at least."

"What about suicide?" he shot back, licking thin lips, his eyes burning like furious, white neon.

"You thinking 'bout suicide, bud?" asked Frankie from the bed.

Jerry forced a laugh. It's echo hung in the air like a funeral chime. "Come on, guys . . ." They just stared at him. "Stop gawking at me. I'm not dead yet. Besides, can't die yet . . . I have to finish my poetry, my Manifesto." He patted his pocket where his spiral was tucked in. "Okay?"

No one said anything. No one was sure what to say. There was a knocking sound on the door, then the turning click of the chrome knob. The head of a nurse popped in, wrinkles of time and anxiety decorating her plump face. "You'll have to go," she rasped harshly. "Visiting hours are over. You're not allowed in here anymore." She looked around at them with open disapproval.

Alice glanced over at Jerry, who blinked at the nurse and ignored her loathing. When her steel gray eyes washed over his crouched body, he smiled at her pleasantly. Her face contorted and then disappeared, slamming the door shut.

Everyone stood up and said their goodbyes. "You're gonna miss one hell of a show this Saturday, Frankieboy," Holly smiled, back to her upbeat self.

"Ah, who needs those shows. A lot of pushing and shouting and dancing and sweating. Loud music. Who needs it," he waved his hand. He did, he thought, grinning to himself. He could hear the beat pulsing through his head now and wanted to dance. Man he was gonna miss one hell of a show. "You kids have fun. Don't stay up too late."

Alice laughed and waited at the door for the others. Jerry stood up and stepped toward the redhead. Frankie's voice caught him, "Hey, Jer. Promise me to stay away from this suicide biz. At least 'til you finish the Manifesto."

When Jerry replied his "yes," everyone in the room breathed a sigh of relief. And then Jerry was walking out of the room, followed by Alice. Holly turned just before reaching the door, her braided pony tails swinging around her like twin blonde vipers. "Catch ya on the flip side, Frankieboy." And they were gone.

Alice played the dance of Routine that memorable Thursday morning in October. The wind buffeted her long, gray overcoat, whipping it around like the banner of a lost battle. She walked through the doors of Saint George High, under the Great Crucifix holding the Son of the Almighty, waiting to judge the world on the last day of Time.

An odd queasiness played over the redhead's stomach. Something bad was going to happen. She knew it, just as she knew the sky is gray when it's going to rain. But what? "A test. I'm worrying over a test." It was a lie and she knew it.

She broke into a trot towards the Cafeteria. That's where he'd be. That's where Jerryboy would be. "Don't trip," laughed some voice. Laura or Amy or some other member of the Elite Circle. She ignored them, her mind on other things.

Her shoulder connected with some miscellaneous student, books crashing everywhere. She shifted her tread to a run.

Bursting through the doors of the Cafeteria, she looked around wildly-

desperately--for Jerry. Not there. Laughing Sophomores. Not there, whispering teachers. Where? Where?!?

Turning her head, she nearly fell to her knees with relief at the sight of Jerry, standing slouched near the Coke machine. "Jer, I'm so glad to see you."

He turned, eyes eying her. "Why?" His eyes, decorated with blue brown bags, held a relaxed detachment as they pondered her question.

"Just had a bad feeling. That's all. It's better now. I'm better now." She placed her hand on his shoulder to reassure herself. It didn't help, she wasn't better. She still had that nagging premonition. Wasn't better.

He smiled at her, "I told you, everything's cool."

Another class of Physics. Surface to surface projectile motion. Vector addition. Sleep for some. Nervous fidgeting for Alice. She sat down without glancing at Holly, whose greeting fell on hollow, unlistening ears. Nervous ears.

". . . AAA-lice. Oh AAA-lice. You there? You trippin'?" Holly was hunched over her seat, leaning towards Alice, trying to catch her attention.

"Wha--no. I'm fine. Just a little sick."

Holly looked at her skeptically, then reached into her red book bag as the bell buzzed the start of class. She pulled out a green notebook, spiral binding, holding the dog-eared leafs together. "Jer asked me to give this to you," Holly said, handing her the spiral.

Alice took it. She hadn't realized how much her hands were trembling until they resonated through cover's glossy green. "What's wrong Ali? You sure you're not up?"

Alice ignored her friend, her mind focused to a pin on the notebook. Her fingers moved alarmingly cool and calm through the pages of half thoughts, scribbled ideas, and almost-verse. She found the final page.

Autumn falls and leaves turn red;
Mother have you made my bed?
I'm coming home at journey's end
And rounding your Cycle's final bend.
I'm so tired, the stigmatas so deep.
Fall Snow Earth Sleep

the end

Her stomach exploded, the world crashed in like a wave of anxiety. She stood up abruptly, too abruptly. Her legs caught in the desk, causing it to tip forward and slam loudly into the green, school room tiles. Alice slid out of the wreckage and staggered backwards, staring with horror and disbelief at the notebook sprawled on the floor.

All eyes were on her. Whispers. "What's going on?" "What's happening?" Holly touched her shoulder with an uncertain, "Alice?" She jerked back, away from her friend. Wild eyes caught Holly's face. Alice shook her head violently. She was going to scream. She was going to puke.

She was spinning, the world was spinning. Wondering faces regarded her, shaking their heads. Whispering. The door stood ajar as it slid across her speed blurred vision. Escape.

Alice bolted for it. The hall stood empty and cold as a mausoleum. She puked. Her mind was fading in and out, from eternal fields of white fuzz to painfully sharp reality and a distant voice screaming, "NO! NO!" A familiar voice.

Her ears were ringing. Her throat was sore. She was singing with the frantic chorus of that distant voice. Her voice.

Alice found herself in her car now, the peculiar smell of old cloth seats mixing in with the sharp tang of vomit. Her mind was racing, spinning, crashing, flooded by the loud hum of the floored engine. 50. 60. 70. Red lights like the eyes of a laughing demon. She couldn't stop, not now. Not ever.

White picket fences walled in a calm, suburban house. Alice stumbled out of the car, body shaking, her mind numb. She barely noticed the dirt gardens and green/brown grass. The flowers had all died. The roses that Mrs. O'Sombra was so proud of had dried up and faded away. Not the season.

No cars in the driveway. No movement in the windows. The house stood empty, dead. She tried the cold, brass door knob. It turned . . . click.

The door glided open noiselessly on silent hinges, Alice stepped inside. A queer calm settled over her--like the calm before a storm, she thought as she walked up the stairs. She shivered.

The bathroom door off to the right stood open, letting out the filtered hiss of the running sink. The light was on. Alice moved towards it as if in a dream, nearly tripping on the thick rug, then slowly catching her balance and moving on. Her ears held the high pitched ring of some foreign chime, the only sound that filled the void.

The first thing she saw was the blood, everywhere. Tracked across the floor. Smeared on the walls. Opening the door wider, a macabre scene sprawled out before her, flooded her vision with horror.

Pink blood on the white porcelain sink, where hot water streamed over the side onto the blood stained floor and steamed the mirror where a single streak of red sat. And sitting in the corner in a puddle of his own blood like a dying soldier was Jerry's hunched body. The battle was over, time to sleep.

Jerry's rag doll body stirred on the red coated floor; it shivered, it shook. "I couldn't do it," sobbed a voice, too pain-racked to be Jerry's. He turned, sat up against the bathroom wall. He still wore his uniform, pinkish red soaked deep into his white Oxford. The boy held his arms up like a butcher displaying his wares.

His arms were criss-crossed with slashes oozing blood. The cuts weren't deep, though, and did not touch his wrists. Thank God not his wrists.

Alice crouched down and took Jerry into her arms like a wounded animal. "Oh Jerry, why did you do it?" Tears were pouring down her face. Joy's tears. Her heart was soaring. She felt weak, but so good. So much better. The tears kept coming, they wouldn't stop. Couldn't stop.

Jerry was crying, too. "I'm so glad you're here, Ali. So, so glad."

"Why did you do it, Jerry? Why?" her voice rang with desperate questioning. Such an awful, unfair thing, suicide was. Such a selfish, awful thing. But it was over now. Jerry had stopped crying and pulled away.

He looked at her with searching, red rimmed eyes. Tear trails glistened on his pale, clammy face, washing away blood smears. He needed medics, bad. But first, Alice wanted an answer.

She was about to ask why again, when he whispered, "Didn't you hear?"

Her being shivered, but she asked the fateful question. "What? Hear what?" That queer upset in the core of her self was rising again.

"This morning, around 2 o'clock, Frankie died. . . ."

Epitaph

Alice watched the crowd disperse through the gray rain, the black umbrella-flowers floating off in the breeze. Two of the black bloomers remained, their roots planted in the soggy earth.

Alice walked towards the two. The one on the right held a plastic umbrella handle with bandaged hands. The other wore a long black dress and helped support the wounded.

"Greetings and salutations," Alice spoke softly, placing her hand gently on the boy. "What are you two crazy kids doing here?" She was trying hard to hold back her tears.

Jerry glanced over, his deep eyes rimmed with dark bags and red crying circles. He managed to smile.

The three looked down at the open cavity, now closed with flowers. "He was the only one among us to have a happy family--two parents," Holly said. Her parents had died when she was ten in a plane crash. No one's fault. Only mechanical failure. She took it pretty well.

"So what was it? Internal bleeding?" Alice asked, catching a tear from her cheek.

"Yeah, something like that," Holly answered quickly.

The redhead nodded. "I've almost lost two good friends to societal blindness." She squeezed Jerry's shoulder. "How you holdin' up, Jer?"

"Good. Better . . . I'm better."

They stood in silence, watching the grave. The rain began to lighten up.

"I'd like to blame John Beckard and the Ringling boys . . . but I can't seem to do it," Holly trailed off.

"Wasn't their fault--not really at least. They are what there are, assholes by nature I guess," Alice tried to laugh. "Just society I guess. They're there and we're here, and they don't understand here. Their nature to lash out. Ours to cling to."

Holly nodded with understanding. The sun was coming out in the distance, Alice saw, yellow sunbeams breaking through the gray clouds. In the distance.

"Time to say good bye, Frankieboy," Alice's voice wavered in the October air that held in the breeze the faint smell of the red and gold leaves of Autumn, clinging to the last at the advent of Samhain. A single tear escaped her green eye where moments before there were many. "You lived a good life, although short. We'll always remember you. We'll always try to be as stubborn as you." She sniffed hard and could not continue.

"You were a good friend," Jerry whispered. "A good friend," his lips seemed to taste the words. "You were probably the only one of us who truly lived a life of your own." He took a breath and went on,

"The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep. . . ."

His voice trailed off, and then he was walking away.

Alice glanced one more time at the flowery grave. "And miles to go before I sleep." She watched Holly kneel and place a bouquet of lilies on the mound of roses and posies, then turned to go.

Holly was crying when she stood up, but smiled nonetheless. She turned her head as they walked away across the soggy earth and whispered in a voice that could almost be mistaken for the cold, sad wind if not for that hint of love, "Catch ya on the flip side. . . ."

Autumn falls and leaves turn red;
Mother, please don't make my bed.
The Cycle's long, the journey's rough
But all the wounds have made me tough.
Must struggle on to really live,
To work, to cry, to fight, to give . . .
No, I won't be coming home for a while.
Trip Life Self Smile

Certainly not The End

7