Published by J.T. Warren

Copyright 2011 J.T. Warren

This book is for people who always see the darkness and like the view.

Special thanks as always to my first readers and editors: LeeAnn Doherty, Scott Nicholson, Karla Herrera, and, of course, my lovely wife.


Five minutes of passing time between classes wasn't much but sometimes it felt like a lifetime. Tyler Williams was exchanging books at his locker and grabbing the bag lunch Dad had made for him when Paul flopped his back against the lockers next to him. "When were you going to tell me?"

"Tell you what?" Tyler asked.

Paul laughed in the mocking way that said he knew Tyler was being a dick. "Didn't even tell your best friend." He shook his head. "I mean, I should have known first. I'm just so proud of you." Paul pretended to wipe away tears.

"It's no big deal," Tyler said. "It's just a date."

"It's the day you finally grew some balls. Congrats, man. I knew it would happen." He slapped Tyler on the back. "Next thing you know you'll be updating your status to 'in a relationship.'"

"It's just a date."

"It's proof you're not a homo."

"Real funny."

"You mean, you are a homo?" Before Tyler could stop him, Paul was shouting in singsong fashion at the passing kids, "Tyler's a homo! Tyler's a homo!"

Someone yelled, "Right on, faggot!" and someone else said, "You're the fag, you retard."

Most of the kids crammed into the hallway of Stone Creek High School offered a brief, contemptuous glance and continued on their way.

"Where you taking her?"

"Movie and dinner."

"Then what?"

"Then what, what?"

"You just going to ask if she'll wrap that snaggletooth around your cock or you got something more creative planned?"

"I'll be fine."

"Yeah. You wouldn't even have the date if not for me."

Two days ago, Paul had told him that Rebecca had said that Sasha thought he was kind of cute and that she would answer a call from him if he happened to find her number, which Rebecca passed to Paul in a note folded fifteen times, like some secret message from an underground cult. Paul ragged him for three hours until he said that if Tyler didn't man up for once in his life, he was bound to be a homosexual, if, that was, he wasn't one already. If Tyler didn't make the call, Paul said he'd spread the word that Tyler's mother had found gay porn on his laptop.

That was all the motivation he needed. His fears of rejection, which kept him pacing frantically back and forth in his bedroom and which spurred him into a vicious tirade of self-critique, proved a waste of time. Sasha giggled and said yes. Now, he was mere hours from the date and unable to think of anything else. Mr. Gerard had called on him twice in math and both times Tyler had been thinking about how he was going to make that first move on Sasha. He had even started a list in the margin of his notebook of possible tactics. Bluntly asking if she'd suck his dick was not one of the possibilities.

"I owe you everything," Tyler said in grand, kowtowing style. "Happy?" He slammed his locker shut and started toward the cafeteria. Paul, who didn't have lunch until the following period, followed right along.

"What you owe me," Paul said, "is a date with Delaney."

"I'm about to eat. You want me to vomit?"

"Your sister is hot. You have to admit it."

"I can't even respond to that."

"Yeah, because you know I'm right."

Up ahead, kids were shouting or grunting back and forth to each other like gorillas in the mountains. A group of girls in short skirts and high heels gossiped rapidly back and forth. Passing them, Tyler caught the words, "such a bitch" and "whore better back off." The sounds of talking and yelling echoed everywhere. To the left, a little freshman was on his knees in front of his locker trying to get the combination right for the hundredth time. Any moment now, the tears would start. Tyler thought of his little brother Brendan and felt sorry for this kid but it wasn't his job to help him. That's why there were teachers, although he didn't see any in the halls.

"Besides," Paul said. "I think she likes me."

"Don't you have history class?"

"Mr. B. doesn't care if I'm late."

Two football players, dressed in their home jerseys even though the season had ended months ago, were play fighting up ahead outside a computer lab. The flowing traffic gave them a wide birth, which slowed Tyler's steps to a crawl.

"This place is fucked," Tyler said.

"Just like you're going to be tonight, right?" Paul asked.

"Right."

"C'mon, man. She said yes. She's a little weird or whatever, but she said yes." Paul leaned close. "A girl like that is aching for it. I'm surprised one of the jocks hasn't hit it yet. She's ready to fall off the vine. You only have to reach for it."

Tyler had been with girls before but never advanced past the boundary of the jeans. He didn't want to seem like some desperate pervert but Paul was right: Sasha was exactly the type of girl who went around secretly hoping some guy would just whip it out for her.

Before the date, Tyler would be back on the Internet trolling for dating tips. Just undoing her bra strap posed its own challenge. He'd spent enough time staring at her breasts in English that they were burned into his brain. He often thought about going up to her in class and ripping open her shirt and launching his mouth at those breasts.

A hot rush flushed through him.

"You just have to man up," Paul said. "Then you can stick it in her."

"Real classy."

"Then put in the good word for me with Delaney so I can stick-"

"Jesus, enough."

Paul paused. "All you have to do is lay the foundation for me."

"No."

Paul adopted one of his over-the-top, dramatic personas. "I see how it is. I see how you do me. Fine. Whatever. But I hope Sasha pulls some weirdo shit on you and you wake up with your cock in a jar."

"That's great. See ya."

"Whateva, nigga. Peace." He made some kind of gang gesture over his head, something he probably saw in a movie, and headed back the way they had walked.

Paul was always good for a laugh but Tyler was too busy waging an internal battle between anxiety and lust to care what he wanted. Tyler had a genuine chance to get some serious action tonight so long as he didn't turn into a cowardly douche.

In the cafeteria, Tyler sat with this kid Aaron Vandershant who was sometimes funny and often a dick. If he knew about Tyler's date with Sasha, Aaron would unload a barrage of vile-soaked insults at Tyler's choice of girl. Aaron had never been seen even talking to a girl one-on-one, so Tyler didn't much care what Aaron said. Besides, the kid could be quite amusing.

"I'm in Mrs. Pulk's class," Aaron says before Tyler even opens his brown bag. "She's doing her usual lecture shit and the class is real quiet. Bunch of zombies in there, man, I tell you. Anyway, she's talking about some constellation or some shit and then she stops, like freezes, bends over like she's about to fall and grabs the desk in front of her-Kyle Prescott is sitting there like somebody strung or out or something-and she unloads this ass cheek-shaking fart that sounds like a damn grenade going off. I was so stunned I couldn't say anything. And then you know what she does? Mrs. Pulk straightens up, looks at us, and says, 'Bet you can't beat that.' I fucking lost it, man. Almost fell out of my seat."

"She didn't say that."

"Fuck yeah, she did. That bitch is crazy."

"That is crazy." Tyler actually thought it was kind of great that a teacher, especially an old one like Mrs. Pulk, could be so cool about farting.

"Kyle woke up, started choking, said, 'Damn, what's that stink?' And I yell out, "Look out, she had tacos for lunch!' That did it-class erupted and Mrs. Pulk had to stand there and take it."

Delaney and her friends Shannon and Randi joined the table. Usually, the conversations never overlapped or intersected but Tyler didn't detest his sister the way a lot of boys detested theirs. He never ignored her or pretended they weren't related. She was a year younger, a bit of a nerd and like to dress up real girly though not trashy like most high school girls. She only owned one pair of high heels and those she wore for her band concerts. They had been really close when they were young, playing all the time, and though he mostly made fun of her now, it was always out of brotherly devotion. She was a cool girl and he liked hanging with her, but that didn't mean he wanted Paul shoving his tongue down her throat. Or anything else, for that matter.

"What's up, bro? Dad make you his special PB&J?"

"Haven't looked yet. Aaron was regaling me with a story of Mrs. Pulk, the amazing farting teacher."

Delaney frowned. "I love Mrs. Pulk. She farted in class?"

Aaron found a break in his laughter to make an explosion gesture with his hands and shout, "Kaboom!"

Delaney smiled. "That's horrible. Stop laughing."

"It was like D-Day!" Aaron yelled. His face had darkened to deep red.

After saying something to Shannon and Randi, Delaney turned back to Tyler and asked about his big date.

"Who told you?"

"Everybody knows, big brother." She shook her head. "You sure can pick them."

Aaron quieted his screeches of laughter. "Date? Who you banging, Tyler?"

"I'm not banging any-"

"Sasha Karras," Delaney said.

Aaron's eyes went huge. "That weirdo bitch? You're kidding me? Her mother's a witch or something."

"She's not a witch."

Sasha's mother worked the Key Club Fright Fest every Halloween, always dressed up in a black gown with heavy, black makeup. She read fortunes from a stack of tarot cards. Kids said she sacrificed stray cats to her evil witch god.

"Crazy bitch collected Sasha's period blood to use in her ceremonies."

"Ew," Shannon said but she was smiling.

"You made that up."

Aaron shrugged. Even if he had made it up that didn't mean it wasn't true. Such was the world of high school logic.

"Don't do it," Aaron said. "You'll be tainted."

Tyler turned to Delaney. "Thanks, sis."

"No problem, bro. Just don't embarrass the family. I have a reputation to maintain."

"Yeah, right. Tough to keep that nerd persona untarnished."

Her face crumpled a bit but she fought it off. "Just don't forget to wear a condom."

"Yeah," Aaron said, all serious. "You don't want to have a kid with that bitch."

"Shut up," Tyler said. He finally opened his lunch and found a Hot Pocket in its plastic wrapper. How the hell was he going to microwave it? Thanks, Dad.


Stay tuned for part two of the Calamity prologue.