A fog drowned the morning sun as Joanie Parker walked along the gravel. At the edge of the mist, her brother kicked frosted rocks toward the ghostly grey tombstones, and his aimless cackles too easily pierced the air.
“What do you want?” growled Joanie. Her thin lips, tinted of light pink, curved at their edges. “I don’t need a follower.”
Trevor Parker swaggered near the largest monument, his dot-like eyes scrutinizing the name and legacy of a man more important than him, and he pounded his chest and barked a single sound. He then said, “The early bird gets the worm. Don’t you know, sis?”
“You’re so thick. You haven’t a clue about anything.”
Trevor snickered and pounded his head. “I am thick, sis. Just like you. Meat and bones.”
“You’re a Neanderthal.”
“The early Neanderthal gets the worm… And with the worm, he gets the fish…”
“You’re full of shit.”
“You’d think so, sis. But I want that worm.” He tapped his temple and then pointed at Joanie’s. “It’s in there. That little worm is slithering about. It’s why you’re out here, sis.”
Surrounded by stones that towered like dead trees, the rock engraved with Parker materialized from the shroud of grey. Trevor laughed and stomped over their father’s grave. Joanie wanted to scream—she wanted to tear out his throat and watch him bleed—but Father surely wouldn’t approve. Such genealogical quarrel would only break his undying soul. Born among proletariats, Father had always been a fragile man; he eventually snapped beneath the weight of inequity and conjugal denigration. Joanie cursed and kept walking.
Following his sister to an isolated area where neglected graves sprouted above ground like cindered roots, Trevor stated, “You blame Mother, sis. But you’re her spitting image. You would have driven him to the ground, too.”
Expelling silent reproach, Joanie kicked at the fragmented pieces of an anonymous tombstone. She knelt over the grave’s exposed concrete slab and barked, “Help me move the lid. And be quiet.”
The cold concrete grinded. Instead of inanimate bones and rot, a young man lay bounded, gagged, and blindfolded. Pulling at the cuffs that chained his wrists and ankles, he moaned desperate sounds that reverberated within the dank, dirty enclosure. Joanie signaled to her brother, who suppressed a maniacal chortle, and they heaved the slab back into place.
Trevor spurt, “He’s a handsome chump! What are you going to do with him?”
“I’m going to break him,” she said lowly.
“There it is!” Trevor howled. “That’s the worm, sis!”
Joanie Parker hissed, “I’ll break him, I swear.”
Shadows slithered beneath the dim chandelier. Joanie sat tall, Trevor buoyed a fantastical grin, and Elizabeth Parker avoided her sibling’s incessant glares. At the head of the table, their mother watched, too.
“Lizy,” stated Joanie, her stagnant gaze similar to their mother’s, “you’re not eating.”
“I’m not hungry,” replied Elizabeth, her swollen, purpling eye hidden behind plain brown bangs.
Joanie said brusquely, “He hit you again, didn’t he? Your other eye hasn’t even healed yet. What a scoundrel. Men.”
Trevor abruptly sniggered. “Scoundrels! Yes we are! We’re the big bad wolves of the world!”
“Trevor Parker!” yelled Mother, thin flaps of skin rippling across her forehead. “Quit bothering your sister.”
Trevor flicked some peas from his plate, his lips moving in a silent pretense of agony. With the creases above her brows straining markedly, Joanie shot, “So what provoked him this time? Did you burn his dinner? Did you wear the wrong dress?”
“Drop it,” demanded Elizabeth. “It was an accident this time. He didn’t do anything.”
“They wouldn’t be called men if they didn’t hurt you.”
“Don’t talk to me.”
“…What’s that on your finger?”
Suddenly irate, Joanie marched around the table and grabbed Elizabeth’s hand, and the engagement ring glittered more effusively than the chandelier’s fake crystals. Trevor Parker erupted with laughter.
“Shut up!” screamed Joanie. “Shut up right now! What’s so goddamn funny?”
“Oh!” Trevor started, his teeth showing like a hyena’s smile. “I’m happy our dear sister has found someone to love. Reciprocated affection. It’s a beautiful thing.”
Joanie spat, “You’re marrying him, Lizy?”
“Don’t look so jealous,” Elizabeth muttered and touched her black eye. “He hasn’t returned my calls… I don’t know where he is…”
Trevor’s caustic stare gnawed at Joanie’s frontage of impenetrable authority. He slowly bubbled with mirth.
“I said shut up!” Joanie cried.
“Hush you two,” interrupted Mother. Her dyed black hair, much too fraudulent a claim of youth, whipped as she turned. “Let’s not jump to conclusions. Elizabeth, I am surprised. I did not think your relationship with this boy—”
“Robert,” interrupted Elizabeth. “He’s not a boy, or any other name you’d think to call him. His name is Robert.”
“I did not think your relationship with this Robert was so serious… Should I be concerned? I know nothing—and yet you expect my permission to wed this boy! Are you ashamed of him? Is he not fine company?”
“No, Mother. I’m not ashamed.”
Joanie chirped, “Then you must be ashamed of your family.”
Elizabeth muted a reply and left the room. The front door slammed shut.
Restive and belligerent, Joanie followed and called from the porch, “In a hurry?”
“I’d like to go home,” replied Elizabeth, her words fighting through the wind.
Joanie proclaimed, “This is home.”
Elizabeth stopped walking. With the toe of her boot, she grinded the browned tissue of a dead rose into the concrete. A trio of ravens laughed from atop a power line, which defined the suburban boundary and extended toward the cemetery. Elizabeth finally said, “To you it might be. For me, home is where I’m happiest.”
“Mother won’t approve of him.”
“And neither will you.”
“He’ll only break you. You break so easily. Just like Father.”
“We’re getting married—just try and stop us.”
Trevor ambled onto the porch and giggled. “Well, well, well. I’ve found the two little birdies.”
Jamming the keys into her rusted Volkswagen, Elizabeth huffed, “I’m leaving.”
Joanie pronounced, “You’ll come back. You always do.”
The engine snarled frailly, Elizabeth wiped away blooming tears, and the Volkswagen pulled onto the busy road. As the Beetle passed the cemetery’s stone perimeter, Joanie muttered, “I’ll teach that boy a lesson. He’ll regret he was ever born.”
Trevor erupted with riotous laughter as if he’d discovered a nugget of gold inside his mind.
“What’s your problem?” snapped Joanie.
“You know, I’m not as dumb as you pretend I am. You like him, don’t you? You want him!”
“No! Absolutely not!”
“He’s the man you’ve always wanted! Rugged, stubborn, despicably nasty—you long for that kind of combative companionship. How deliciously wonderful!”
“Shut up! I hate that bastard!”
“You’re pathetic, sis. Even though he beats our lovely sister, you’ll let him live. Pathetic.”
“Shut up! Shut up!”
Joanie’s voice rang out like shotgun blasts, and her words pierced the walls like bullets. Her shrieks, though, hardly drowned Trevor’s merciless laughter. Shut up!—she yelled and ran inside—shut up!—she quivered—shut up!—she gasped, her words repeating until the cartridge emptied, until her words were simple, hollow clicks.
Rain shattered against the ground like glass while the storm raged with formidable hammer strokes. Cars plowed through the flood and thrust waves onto the sidewalk, and an icy wetness crawled through Joanie’s boots. Footsteps spattering, she trudged toward the cemetery where Trevor waited. Joanie wanted to yell—Why here? What’s so damn important? Did Father’s reincarnation rise, for god’s sake?—but the cold wind gagged her lungs. Trevor laughed but the sound dissipated in the rain. His stare drilled straight through her psyche. Then, Trevor raised his arms, embracing the chaos of the storm, and suddenly stepped onto the road. His body glowed white—a horn sounded—and Joanie screamed like the thunder above. She leapt onto the road, every muscle conducting lightning, and their bodies careened onto the pavement. The car swerved around, its horn still blaring, and Joanie heaved him onto the muddy grass and tripped over his soaked body. She grabbed his collar and yelled louder than the rupturing sky above.
“Trevor! What the hell were you thinking! Answer me!”
He laughed. Or maybe he cried. She couldn’t tell.
“Trevor!” Joanie screamed again. “Look at me, damn it!”
The white of lightning illuminated his freakish grin. She struck him. Her palm went numb while his face absorbed the pain and rain. He smiled—or grimaced—Joanie still couldn’t tell.
He said, “I wanted to know what it felt like. To be broken beyond repair.”
“Is this what you wanted to show me? Is this your glorious surprise? Answer me!”
“I did your dirty work, sis. I am the harbinger of death. The destroyer of worlds.”
“What are you talking about?”
Trevor watched how the cars tore through the rain and air; he watched as the broken molecules splattered onto the pavement. The cars were unstoppable forces meeting breakable elements, machines of life and progress but of death as well.
“The rain brings out the worms, sis. But they’ll drown either way.”
Joanie’s lungs filled with water. She sputtered, “You… you killed him…”
Fronting the gods of lightning with interminable mirth, Trevor uttered, “I did it for you, sis. Cause I love you.”
Joanie sprinted to the anonymous grave and heaved the concrete lid. Silence except for the clatter of rain and her curtailed breaths. She fumbled with a lighter, her thumb trembling, and its flame flickered feebly. Inside the grave, Elizabeth’s lover lay motionless with a blade handle protruding from his midsection. Raindrops dissolved into the pooled blood.
“Trevor! How could you! I—I didn’t want this!”
Trevor sauntered to the other side of the grave, reached inside, and pulled out the butcher knife.
“How? It was easy,” he said and walked around, bringing the knife’s tip to his abdomen. “All it takes is a push.”
“You’re a monster,” Joanie uttered, unable to move.
“I’m a Neanderthal, remember?”
A burst of lightning irradiated the knife’s silver steel, and Trevor’s deranged cackle echoed the thunder. He stepped closer, with the knife still pressed to his navel, and his eyes, locked onto Joanie’s, begged for a warped permutation of mercy and punishment. He bowed his head and laughed a solemn sound—unable to control her rage, Joanie forced the blade into her brother’s stomach. As the thunder and laughter decayed to a low, synchronized growl, Trevor lurched forward and collapsed into the grave. His gasps slowed while Joanie’s quickened. She yelled. She cried. She cursed. As Trevor’s last breaths were quelled by the cold of rain and concrete, Joanie shoved the grave’s lid back into place and walked home.
She wondered for how long secrets could remain buried.