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Illustration by KKC Bauder Orange
& Black
BY GAGE
Illustration by KKC Bauder

"And enter Ronny Carlushi."

Johnny jerked his thumb over his shoulder as he turned back to the table. His burger sat before him, one bite taken out of it. "I can't eat," he said. "Lost my appetite." He gave a jerk of the thumb again. "Anybody want it?"

"Ugh," groaned Karl. "You took a bite out of it."

"Stop bein' a baby," said Johnny.

"It has germs."

"Germs is germs. Can't taste 'em."

Johnny looked at me. "You want it?"

I shook my head. I wasn't hungry. Nerves were bolting in my stomach.

"Jeez," Johnny exhaled. "You guys are so picky."

I sighed and looked over my shoulder. Ronny was approaching us now. Two goons backed him up, looking giant, but still short compared to Ronny. Their eyes barely reached his shoulders.

I looked down at the table, hiding my face. Too bad I didn't have food; I looked stupid gazing at a table. Meanwhile, Karl was sucking on his inhaler and Johnny was acting tough. He didn't hide his identity at all. He put the burger back on the tray and said, "I'm gonna throw this in the trash." He stood and faced Carlushi and stared him down. Which looked odd, because he had to look up to meet his eyes. Johnny barely reached Ron's chest.

Then he walked right past him and threw his food in the trash.

As he was turning back, Ronny had already collared him, lifting him up to his face. Johnny's feet dangled six inches off the ground, and Johnny was good-sized.

"Whatcha doin' here?" asked Ronny quietly.

I heard John reply, "Eating, what else?"

"I told you not to come here. This is my place."

"Really? Last time I checked, you don't own Burger King." Johnny had a lot of pride and daring for someone who was hanging off in someone's arms.

"You're being fresh to me," said Ronny, and smiled.

"You're picking up, numbskull."

Ron lowered Johnny slowly. He still held onto his sleeve. "Follow me," he said, and dragged Johnny out to the parking lot.

"What is he doing?" asked Karl.

"Johnny doesn't know what he's getting into," I answered incredulously. "We gotta stop this."

I went to the window and Karl followed. Outside, Ron had Johnny in an arm-lock, shoving his arm as far up Johnny's back as possible. Johnny was fixing to cry. Then, Ron's goons took hold of him while Ron hit him in the face and stomach.

I burst through the door, with a reluctant Karl behind me. Without thought, I struck him in the eye as hard as I could. He fell. Hard. His head bounced on the pavement. I jumped on him, and buried my fists in his stomach three times before his idiot friends pulled me up. I didn't see the fist that socked me across the cheek.

Johnny tackled one, crushing him into the ground. Karl began struggling the other, unsuccessfully.

Things started to become blurry. I quickly got off the ground and kicked the boy that was hitting Karl with all my might. He clutched at his stomach and rolled over crying. Karl sat up, his face bloody. His mouth was gaping in disbelief.

I sank to my knees, adrenaline draining from me. Johnny was still on the other goon, hitting him over and over again. The boy was screaming in pain with every blow.

My eyes blurred with tears. I was crying now, and I didn't know why. Karl crawled looked at Johnny, still awed. He slowly crawled over to Johnny and sat with him.

"Johnny," he said.

Johnny didn't answer. Then Karl stopped his pummeling fists with strength that he had never displayed before. He held them still for a moment, staring Johnny in the eye. Then he gently let go. Johnny looked around quickly. Tears and blood and bruises marked his face. He looked at me, and I was surprised to find he was sobbing. Hard.

I sat back, surveying the scene while Johnny cried into Karl's shoulder. Everything happened slowly. The goon Karl had battled was holding his gut, rolling on the ground. His moans were quiet.

The one Johnny had pulverized was crying loudly. He sat still, letting out long screams of agony. I sniffled and tears rolled down my cheek. What had we done? I felt like I was sitting at a military M*A*S*H with wounded soldiers all around me. Except I had helped cause all this pain.

Ronny was lying silently on the ground. He didn't move.

Dazed, I crawled over to him. Blood pounded in my ears, shutting all sound out. I rested next to Ronny. My elbows dug into the gravel as I gently slapped him in the face. "Ronny," I croaked.

No response.

"Ronny," I croaked again. He didn't wake up. I laid down next to him and stared into the sky. "Karl!" I screamed, my voice cracking. I thought of how Johnny and I were sobbing, and Karl, the vulnerable one, was strong. But before I could think any more he and Johnny were by my side. John was sniffling as Karl bent down.

"He's breathing," he said calmly. His fingers were placed on Ronny's neck. "He has a pulse."

I closed my eyes. I felt warm blood pulsing out of my hands and arms, slick. I imagined the crimson waves oiling across my skin, pooling on the concrete. "Is everyone okay?" I asked without looking at Karl.

"Mostly. Ron is pretty banged up. He has a huge bruise on his eye. I don't know how he's going to explain that to his mom. His friends are fine. They're just being babies. Only one of them is bleeding. The one Johnny was beating. I think his name is Frederick or something. The one you kicked is fine."

"How are we?"

"You're good. You are bleeding from your nose. You have cuts all over your hands and knees. Johnny isn't so good. I think Ron dislocated his arm. And he looks like he had some good hits on his stomach. His face is all bloody."

I opened my eyes. The sunlight sent waves of pain pulsing in my head. I looked at Karl.

"You have a nose bleed. You have a big cut on your chin."

Karl sat down. Johnny sat next to him.

"I'm sorry," Johnny said. "I should've--"

I felt something wet splash on me. Johnny was wretching. I jerked and scrambled away in alarm. Looking back, I saw Johnny bent over and Karl was patting him on the back. Brown vomit was shooting from his mouth as he sputtered and coughed. I took my jacket off quickly and threw it away from me. I wiped my face--blood.

"I--Don't--Wa--" stuttered Johnny between sobs and wretches. He spit on the ground. Karl nervously sat behind him, whispering, "Just let it go. All of it."

I closed my eyes.

My head ached when the darkness cleared. The chunks of asphalt beneath my head were digging into my cranium. I didn't get up. Had anything really happened? I traced my finger over my face. Pain sent shards of alarm through my brain.

It had all happened.

Karl appeared above me. "Get up," he whispered. "We have to go."

I groaned. "How long have I been out?"

"A few minutes. We have to go before some adult finds us. They might call home."

Alert knifed open my senses. I sat up. Pressure overrode the pain. Johnny was standing up, and so was Karl. Both their faces were clean.

"You're cleaned up?"

"Got some napkins from the clerk at Burger King. I told him I fell. Here." He handed me two napkins. I took them and wiped over my face, cringing in pain. The dry paper clung to my skin.

"Can we get some water?"

"We've been out here too long. They'll get suspicious."

Johnny picked me up. "C'mon," he said. "We gotta get out of here."

"Ugh."

"Don't be a baby."

"I'm a baby?" I said angrily. "Who's the one crying and throwing up?"

"I was hurt."

"And I wasn't?"

I put my face next to his.

"Shut up," he said.

"C'mon," called Karl. "We gotta stick together. We just fought to save each other. Guys, we're best friends. We gotta be together or no one will be protected."

Silence. I didn't speak. If Johnny wanted peace, he'd have to give in.

"I'm sorry," he said quietly. "I can't think. I just. . ."

I smiled.

"Thanks for helping." He looked at Karl. "You too."

Karl and I chuckled.

"Just don't let it happen again," said Karl.

I backed away. Ronny was the only one still on the ground. "The idiots left," said Johnny, wiping his mouth. "When they got up we told them to leave. They limped home." He laughed mirthlessly.

"How's Ronny?"

"You gave him a good one," said Karl. "He's been out for a while now."

"I saw his head hit the ground," commented John. "It was great. Good job, Lloyd." I smiled weakly. "I was angry," I said, and walked over to Ronny. His face was solemn. His eyes were closed and one of them had a huge bruise that swelled around the eyelid. His nose was a little crooked. He had a cut on his lip that had dried blood on it.

"Ah, man. We gotta get out of here."

I turned. Karl was heading home.

I and Johnny caught up to him. "Why are you so mighty and leadership-driven all of a sudden?" asked Johnny. He walked quickly, struggling to catch up with Karl. I quickened my pace.

Karl laughed. "I dunno," he said. "I guess that fight just triggered something in me. I feel good."

Johnny groaned, "I liked the old Karl better. Slow down."

I stopped for a moment, letting the others pass me. I looked over my shoulder. Ronny was still on the ground. A tinge of guilt survived in my stomach. I felt bad for leaving him there. I turned my head slowly, back to the sidewalk. My friends had already rounded the corner.

* * *

"I tripped," I said.

My mother looked at me suspiciously. Her knowing smile was not on her lips. That was good. She was buying it. I was doing well. She sat down at the table and looked at me hard.

"Okay," she said. "But if you're lying. . ."

I frowned.

"Just. . . I'm scared for you, Lloyd. Johnny always starts a ruckus and that's not what you need."

"Don't worry about me. I'm fine."

"I'm your mother, it's my job." She laughed unenthusiastically. I chewed my fingernail.

"Go wash up," she said. "Dinner's almost ready."

The air was brisk. Jack O' Lanterns lined the sidewalk, waiting to be lit on Halloween, which was only one day away. The smell of plastics and candies and old costumes filled my nostrils. I could hear a tinkering music somewhere, a light ding. I had never been a huge fan of Halloween, but I enjoyed it. I was usually the casual guy in a mummy costume that consisted entirely of bandages on my head. Nothing amazing, nothing too careless. The nice breeze pushed against my face as I walked. The sky glowed a slight orange.

I knocked on Johnny's door. We had planned several days ago we would meet up a little before Halloween. Johnny opened the door, Karl at his shoulder.

"Come on in," said Johnny. My parents are out getting groceries."

I wiped my feet on the mat and stepped onto the hardwood floor. A pine scent was wafting from the hallways. Karl said, "You're not gonna believe this." He giggled nervously as we walked into the living room. In the middle of the room, on a little table, was a small little television. It was purple and transparent, the kind with a little antennae to get reception.

"Guess what I did," said Johnny.

"Bought a little television," I replied.

"I went to Ronny's house," continued Johnny. "Turns out, he's been faking sick to hide the thumping we gave him. So I said to her, 'Mrs. Carlushi, I brought Ronny a get well soon card.' So I went upstairs to his room while he was hiding under the covers. Like a ninja, I did this. . . "

With a grand swooping of arms, Johnny pushed the POWER button on the TV. It flickered to life, showing a large room with a bed in the middle. A figure was rustling under the covers.

"You put a camera in his room?"

"Yes," Johnny said. "I have a wireless adapter linked to this TV, feeding us live footage. Now we know what he's up to this year." He snorted, annoyed. What Johnny was referring to was the annual prank Ronny played on the kids of Ripley Middle School. Every Halloween, Ronny and his idiot friends decided to scare a few kids with their clown masks and scary, blood-red suits. But this year was different.

"Awesome, Johnny," said Karl.

"Now we can plot something against them," I said. "Those suckers will never see it coming."

So we went out to the mall and bought costumes. I had always thought clowns were creepy, so I picked a really nasty one. Sharp teeth were protruding from dark red lips screaming with bloody triumph. White and purple makeup lined the screeching face. The eyes were blood-pink. The eye-holes were in the mouth.

Karl picked a deformed mutant. There was twisted skin and an eye where the cheek was and the mouth where the nose should be. A cleaver came with it.

Johnny went for the jugular. I didn't know exactly what the mask and costume were supposed to be, but I didn't want to look at it for long. Think this: Imagine an inside-out human being, guts and all. Now give it a twisted, stitched face with no eyes and a gaping wound for a mouth. Give it claws that are sharp as needles and spikes shooting from the spine. Give it purple and green intestines hanging from the yellow stomach. Give it slices and wounds all over its body.

And there you have it.

We got back to Johnny's house at six. The costumes fit nicely. We were all geared for the next night, anxious to jump from shadows and pounce on Ronny and the goons. I slipped the mask off my face, breathing fresh air. I sat on the couch in Johnny's living room. The TV was on, showing Ronny sitting up in bed, reading a comic. He had a smug grin on his face.

"Johnny, we're home!" called his parents. I heard footsteps on the floor behind us.

I sat on the table, in front of the TV. Karl sat next to me, putting his arm around my shoulder. Johnny stood, transfixed. "Oh, hey mom," he said nervously. We all smiled.

"Hey guys," said his dad, putting down groceries. "What are you doing?"

"Sittin' around," lied Johnny. He laughed.

"Guys?" Johnny's mother asked. "Are you okay?"

"We're just bored."

"Don't watch too much TV."

I stifled a laugh. Irony.

"Ok," said Johnny. "Karl and Lloyd have to go soon, anyway."

His parents left the room. When we heard their footsteps fade away, we sighed. Silently, we sat down and looked at the television. Ronny was sitting on the bed. Two friends crowded around him.

"Ok," said one guy. "What're we doing this year?"

"I think we should get our masks and hide in the Denrey's bushes," said the other.

"We did that last year."

"Go to the local haunted house and hide?"

"No. Not good enough," said Ronny. He gingerly touched the bruise on his eye.

"Then what should we do?" asked the dumb ones, almost in unison.

"I have something special planned. Remember those idiots at the Burger King?"

The fat kids nodded. Obviously they had somewhat of a memory. One hugged his stomach, recalling the pain. I nearly laughed.

"Well, we're gonna get back at them." Ronny smiled, an ugly one.

The goons cracked their knuckles and massaged their biceps. "They may have beat us last time, but we weren't ready," said one. He grinned stupidly.

I exchanged glances with Karl and Johnny. Not worried glances, but thoughtful ones.

"Not fighting, you idiots," snapped Ronny quietly. "We're gonna do something worse. Something that sticks with them. Something that leaves us out of the blame. Where they can't go squeal on us. We hurt them. But not with our fists. I present to you. . ." He removed a game board from his covers. That and a candle. "I stole these from Publix," he said.

"What are they?" one goon inquired.

"This is a Ouija board," informed Ronny. He lifted the candle. "This is incense."

"Are we gonna hit them with the candle?" laughed one friend.

"We're gonna hex them," said Ronny.

I nearly outburst. Laughter pulled at me. Holding my breath, I glanced at my friends. They were having a struggle holding it, too.

"That'll work," snickered one.

"C'mon Ronny. Let me just hit 'em, I know I could win."

"I know it sounds stupid. But trust me. I read this book I got from my uncle. It told me a spell that really works."

"Was this book Harry Potter?" I whispered quietly, and Karl burst into silent hysterics.

"C'mon. We've got nothing to lose," said Ronny, annoyed. The laughter of his goons was loud now.

"Ok," chuckled one. "C'mon, Fred, let's play along."

I watched attentively as Ron sat on the floor. "Get in a circle," he said irritably, miffed at their laughter. They scooted around until they were formed. Ronny glanced once at the door and placed the Ouija board on the ground. He took a lighter and lit up the candle. It flickered as he set it next to the board. "Hold hands," he said. "It's part of the Ritual."

A bit reluctantly, they clasped hands.

"Repeat after me," Ronny ordered in a whisper. He closed his eyes.

"Orange and black."

"Orange and black," they intoned.

Orange and black,

Haunted

Sacked

Sitting in a room

Never to go back

Orange and black,

Haunted

Sacked

Not knowing what it means

To be haunted on Halloween

Orange and black,

Haunted

Sacked

Jack O' Lantern

Ghouls and Phantoms

Orange and black,

Haunted

Sacked

A curse upon thee

Blood in the sea

Orange and black

Colors of that

Date in which

Comes the witch

the ghoul

the monster

the ghost

to be terrified

more than most.

Orange and black,

Haunted

Sacked

Never go back.

Slowly, Ronny opened his eyes. He stared ahead.

"Anything happen?" said one of his friends.

"Yeah," said Ronny shakily. "It takes awhile to take hold."

Creeped out, I turned and looked at Johnny. He was creeped, but still a little dazed with laughter. He smiled. "That was so stupid," he said.

* * *

The next morning I felt shaky. I hadn't slept much last night. Images of Johnny's costume stuck in my mind. But also, that Ritual thing Johnny had done. It seemed so stupid, but something at the corner of my mind was staying there. I sleepily walked the hallways at school. But night fell all too quickly. In my room, I stepped into my costume and slipped the mask on my face.

I walked downstairs. My mother was in the kitchen, making goodies. The smell made my mouth already taste the bittersweet candies and the thick, caramel fudges and the delicious, juicy gum. I stopped next to her and laughed. She looked at me and didn't even flinch.

"You know nothing scares me," she said playfully.

"You'll see," I laughed. "I'll show you."

"Have a good time!" she called as I opened the front door. "Be safe!"

I closed the door behind me. It was very dark. I enjoyed the scent and admired the glowing pumpkins on all the doorsteps. I didn't really trick or treat. There were better things to do. Halloween parties were more my thing, as was scaring a few kids. But only one thing was on my mind: Ronny. He was usually near the park, waiting to pounce.

Karl was on his doorstep. His ugly, twisted face mask was on his head. The cleaver was in his hand. "Hey," I said, and approached him. He waved the cleaver, a funny scene. A mutant waving a cleaver at a friend.

"Hey," he said, his voice muffled under the plastic.

"Let's go find Johnny."

We trekked the sidewalk. Occasionally we would see parents escorting their children to doors, saying, "Look away," as they pointed at us. That was a laugh. Eventually, we were at Johnny's doorstep. I knocked on the door. It opened after a moment. The lady inside recoiled. We hid our laughter.

"Is Johnny home?" Karl asked.

"He's getting ready," she replied. "Johnny, your friends are here!"

Something terrifying crept down the stairs. Johnny. A gravelly tone emanated from the mask. "I've come to eat you all."

"Great voice," complimented Karl. I jumped back in phony fright.

"C'mon, guys," said Johnny. He hugged his mother, which was a hilarious sight. Something absolutely petrifying hugging a grown woman. I laughed loudly and Karl nearly doubled over. Another gravelly tone: "Bye, Mom." Johnny chuckled.

We walked across the sidewalk feeling like a million bucks. We were so scary even ninth graders were staring. As eighth graders, that made us get a little cocky. Johnny pointed at a kindergarten student and growled, "I will devour you."

We approached and overhanging sign that indicated we were at the park. Ahead of us was a winding path.

"They should be around here," commented Karl. Johnny moved forward, silent and quick. He motioned us with his arm. We crouched and moved quietly. Twigs bent under our feet, threatening to crack. We pushed some brush aside and ventured forth. Surrounded in bushes, we were invisible in the dark. Ahead of us, Ronny was walking the rounds with his friends. Their clown masks were emblazoned with smears of red blood, a personal touch. Dark cloaks hid the form of their bodies.

Karl took a little red capsule from his pocket. "Fake blood," he whispered, and squirted some at the edges of his mouth. I imagined the sweet, cherry flavor. But now was time to attack.

"On three," said Johnny. "One. Two. Three."

We emerged from the bushes and rushed forward. I roared loudly, in unison with Karl and Johnny. In the commotion, I noticed the goons and Ronny were carrying little dolls.

They nearly jumped a mile.

I laughed as the idiots screamed and jumped back, startled. The thrill of it made me laugh in howls, which added to the effect. Johnny had fallen to his knees next to me. I could hear him laughing maniacally. Karl was fixing to break, too.

Ronny picked up the hints. He stumbled back and stopped screaming. The goons were still yelling in fear.

I saw Ronny raise the little ragdoll he had clutched in his hand. The words, "Orange and black!" erupted from his mouth.

Something happened. Somewhere, something. Changing, changing. How everything looked, how everything felt. Changing the way everything seemed. Changed me. Changed everything.

Changed.

Slow motion. Ronny moved. Approached me. Slowly, ever so slowly. Something occurred to me: It worked. This hex, this curse. Worked, worked, worked. It worked.

Soon. Soon he would be before me.

Soon.

Now. It was now. His face inches from mine. Nothing else moved. Stillness. His voice, calm. Triumphant. Cold.

"This happens in three stages."

Eyes. Eyes looking into mine. Insane eyes. Is he insane? Am I insane? What is sane? Mouth moving. Words forming. Expressionless face.

"First, everything is real. The way it is supposed to be."

Thinking thoughts. Thoughts. Thinking so hard. Head hurting, ears pounding. Brain buzzing. Electricity in the air. Pain, light.

"Second, you are lost. Lost in the motions."

I understand. Yes. Sure. Makes sense. Makes perfect sense. Makes sense, makes sense. Makes perfect sense.

Makes sense.

"Third, you lose control. I decide."

Words. Words with meaning, words without. Words coming out of that mouth, that hated mouth. Hot hatred words.

He slowly backed up. Back into place. Into place, puzzle solved. Beginning. Enter Ronny Carlushi, Johnny points at him and can't eat. Karl says his burger has germs and Johnny stands up and fights. Orange and black.

Colors swam. Everything started moving again. Ronny stands tall and his goons keep running. Gravelly tone: "Bye, Mom" yes hello, Son how was your day

I fell to the ground. Shades of orange and black filled my sight. Towering above was Ronny, Ronny Carlushi. Enter Ronny Carlushi. I looked up and saw a grotesque clown, laughing, blood, violence. Black eyes and red scars.

Repeat after me "orange and black" and they all say "orange and black"

My eyes close but I still see. Locked into place, can't look away.

"go wash up dinner's ready"

I fought to look away. Terror in my vision. I pull my head right and see a deformed face. Cleaver in hand, the monster stands up and roars inhumanly. I can't move, can't fight back. Can't run. Feel slicing pain at my chest.

johnny went for the jugular

Change. Can't see. Black now, grainy. Orange at sides. And now for the moment you've all been waiting for, waiting for. . . Waiting for. . .

i buried my fists in his stomach

Words couldn't describe. All real, real, I had to run. The inhuman, spiked thing looked at me. All I had to do is run. Escape the pain. I had to run, had to run and. . .

you know nothing scares me "you'll see i'll show you"

Orange and black.

Second stage, please. Okay comin' right up. Yes why thank you tell me doctor lay it on me.

Lost. I gained my bearings and sense back. Nothing was around me. I was in the middle of some white, limitless space. There was no ground but I was standing on something. Upright.

My costume was gone. My mask wasn't on my face.

I collapsed. Breathing hard. Let tears flow. I heard a similar sound behind me.

Karl was crying hard. Johnny was doing the same.

I crawled next to them and tried to stay calm. I laid there, looking at the 'ceiling' while they cried. The sobbing faded after time. I spoke, voice hoarse. "Couldn't think. I wasn't sane."

"It all looked. . ."

"Real," finished Karl. He let out a shuddering breath. I looked over.

"How do we get out of here?"

Johnny sat up and wiped his eyes. "I don't know," he said. He looked around. I buried my head in my hands. Sleep wouldn't come. Panic would.

"Let's go." Johnny was up. Karl was in the process. Wearily, I pushed to my knees, then my feet.

I followed them. Walking into nothing. No sign of moving. After a few steps I got dizzy. Sitting down, I called for them to come back. They sat next to me.

Johnny looked at me, hopeless.

"What did he say to do this to us?" he asked.

"Orange and black," said Karl.

Things formed. Blurs, then outlines, then form, shape, sharpness. Back into our world.

Stage three. Final level, game over.

Stood in the park. I stood. Johnny and Karl did, too. Silence. I heard something in the distance, but the sound was diminished. Quietly, I looked around. Nerves tore through my stomach.

What is next?

My arm jerked above my head. I didn't do it. Some force had done it. Gasping, My legs fell from beneath me. I landed hard on the ground. My head turned. Karl was jerking around in weird positions. Johnny was flying through the air. "Ronny!" I screamed as my back arched. "Ronny!"

My hand closed over my throat.

"Ronny! I'm sorry!"

Harder.

"Sorry! I'm sorry!"

Can't breathe.

"Sorry! I'm--"

Can't talk.

SORRY! I screamed in my head. I'M SORRY!

Ronny was before me. His friends were behind him. The dolls were limp in their hands.

I was on my hands and knees. At their feet. I lowered my head and let out one, pitiful sob. I heard Ronny and Karl do the same beside me. The night was pitch black. I removed the mask from my face.

"Ronny."

"Hello, Lloyd."

"Ronny, please."

His dark hair was hanging before my eyes. I looked up.

"Kiss my feet."

I pecked his shoe. Karl and Johnny did the same, reluctantly.

"You shouldn't have fought. Otherwise it would just be Johnny here." Ronny's voice was cool and gravelly.

"We're friends." I turned my head and weakly smiled at Johnny. His grating voice said a few words that I didn't catch. Karl wiped his eyes and looked up. "Please. Please forgive us. Whatever you say. I'll do it." I nodded quickly, cowardly.

"Call me Master," Ronny demanded. "Kiss my feet."

"Yes, Master," I said shakily, and kissed his shoe. Karl followed suit. Johnny remained still. "Johnny," said Ron, his voice a tone darker. "Kiss my shoe."

Johnny looked up, his eyes full of hate and stubbornness.

"No."

Ronny didn't say a word. He leaned back and said something to the goon at his left. The boy dropped his ragdoll on the ground, and Johnny fell on his face. He laid there, not breathing.

Karl sniffled and looked at Johnny. He started sobbing hysterically. I fought back tears.

"Stop crying." Ronny's eyes were turning red. His voice became loud. "Stop it."

Karl couldn't hold it in. I held my breath.

"Please," Karl pleaded. "Please, please, no. . ."

Ronny leaned back.

"No. . ." Karl's voice became desperate.

The other goon gripped his rag doll.

"No!" screamed Karl, his voice high with tears. "No!"

The ragdoll fell on the ground before me.

* * *

"Yes, Master."

I shakily kissed Ronny's shoe. He stood, his goons leaving. They walked down the sidewalk.

"Lloyd," he said.

I craned my neck.

"Lloyd, I'm sorry. You didn't need to be a part of this. But you did. You became a piece of the puzzle, and now you must pay." I shivered. "You shouldn't have attacked me. I'll think about sparing you."

"Very kind," I said. "Very kind, Master."

We gotta stick together. We just fought to save each other. Guys, we're best friends. We gotta be together or no one will be protected.

"Kiss my shoe."

With an upwelling finality, I prepared for what was to come. Days, months, years of obeying Ronny. Or I could end it all now. Or was it even up to me?

And enter Ronny Carlushi.

"It's not up to me," I whispered.

You know nothing scares me.

I kissed his foot.

I looked up just in time to see Ronny let the doll fall from his hand.



The End


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Gage About the Author: Gage

Gage is a talented 15-year-old author from Florida who began writing for Phoophie Tales at the age of 12. In his free time, he enjoys acting, video games, reading and writing stories. What inspires Gage is reading other great horror stories and wanting to make his own to inspire others.



about the illustrator, kkc bauder

About the Artist:

KKC is a second generation artist from Texas. She was raised on abstract expressionism and loves playing with line, color and motion to create free-form paintings that can be interpretated in many different ways. Her work is inspired by Music and Literature. You can visit her art shop at: Cool Unique Original Art | apparel & gifts



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