Two young men travel separate paths toward their destinies. As one claws his way out of the deep hell that is his life toward something better, the other spirals down from the heights of luxury toward madness. Will the two young men persevere long enough to realize their dreams? Or will insanity drag them into the depths of despair?
Nick looked up as his father came inside, wincing as the door slammed like always. His father stomped into the kitchen—where Nick was slicing vegetables—reeking of alcohol, which also was like always. The unshaven, unkempt man stared blearily at the boy, his red face wild looking and angry. “Where’s your slut of a sister?” he demanded.
Nick looked down, swallowing his anger. “Evie is outside playing, and she’s not a slut.”
His father slapped his face hard enough to rock Nick back a pace. The man stomped outside and began roaring for Evie at the top of his lungs. Nick sighed as he scraped the vegetables into the pot of boiling water. The old man had spent their credit ration on his cheap booze again, so it was just as well that Nick had been able to coax the vegetable plot along as much as he had. Otherwise, they might well starve, not that Father would give a damn, so long as he had his liquor.
Now, he heard Evie’s voice as well, rising above the bass rumble of Father as she tried to defend herself verbally. There was no physical defense possible against the huge, powerfully built man. Even drunk as he was, Ivan Steele could beat the tar out of Nick and Evie one-handed. Evie ran inside, sobbing quietly as she darted into the kitchen and the dubious safety of her older brother’s side.
Nick sourly noticed that she had a bruise to match the one he was developing. He pulled out the flour and began to make dough for some bread. Nick winked at her, making her smile a little.
The smile vanished as their father stomped back into the kitchen. “What’re you doing, boy?”
Nick managed not to sigh. “Father, I am making dinner.”
Their father’s eyes narrowed. “What are you making?”
“Soup and bread, sir.” Nick nodded at the pot. “Should be ready in an hour or so.”
“Hmph.” The old man brushed by Nick, grabbing a jug out of the cabinet under the counter. “Call me when it’s ready, boy.” He stomped back out, jug of moonshine in hand.
* * * *
Jason stared at his feet as he scuffed his way across the wet ground of the schoolyard. The raucous cries of the other kids greeting each other or sometimes playing annoyed him. He wished they were allowed to go inside early. He wanted to get back to the book he was reading, a rather entertaining history of Great Britain. Not that he was British, no, he just loved a good history book, and Kipling’s work, while ancient, was very well written.
“Hey, brainiac!” shouted a decidedly unfriendly voice.
Knowing they meant him, Jason deigned to pick up his feet and move a little faster. It was time for the bell to ring, wasn’t it?
“Hey, I was talking to you, nerd.” The heavy hand of his tormenter spun him around.
Jason scowled and tried to look tough, like Sammie, his older brother. Sammie always claimed that bullies would leave the tough kids alone. “Leave me alone, Gary.”
Gary laughed at him, picked him up by his coat and shook him. “Don’t tell me what to do, brainiac.”
The other kids were gathering around now, drawn in to the violence like moths to flame. They were laughing at him, too.
Jason’s head was spinning, and not from the shaking. Shooting pains flashed through his head, from temple to temple, bouncing like pinballs. He’d read about pinballs. It was a game of flashing lights, moving rubber bits and bouncing balls. He felt like a pinball now as the bullies shoved him back and forth. He didn’t remember Gary setting him down. Or the rest of his gang arriving.
Their departure was so sudden, and Jason just stood there as the rest of the kids broke away, streaming into their classrooms. He stared blankly at the school, still thinking about pinballs and pain. One of the teachers finally noticed him, came over to him. “Jason? Didn’t you hear the bell?”
“Pinball,” he told her. “There’s a pinball loose in my head.” And passed out.