Spit Shine Your Black Clouds”

story by Mabel Harper & Emrys Webb
written by Emrys Webb

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Rory always cleared out of the Alfheim by the end of the workday, not wanting to risk an awkward run-in with Jules after he got off work. And Max, weirdly enough (but to Rory’s relief), never seemed to want him to stay any later, or to come over at night or on weekends.

Since he’d been kicked out of his band, this meant he now found himself with nothing to do half the time except fuck around in Chicago with Fabiana. Between random adventures, the two of them mostly hung out at the Bitch Pit, listening to music and doing whatever drugs Fabi’d scrounged up, and dreaming together whenever they finally called it a night (and, on weekends, what they called night was usually morning). Fabi was teaching Rory to lucid-dream, which she said was even better than getting high because it let you experience a world without consequences. So far, Rory sucked at it. He couldn’t let go of his perceived limitations enough that he could take control. He was afraid, he found himself confessing to her once, while his tongue was loosened by molly, of what he’d turn out to be like with his boundaries gone—if he really let what was deep down inside him take over.

There was no visiting Max on Saturday, so Rory and Fabi partied extra late Friday night and slept in the next day. Maybe it was the coke, but Rory didn’t really remember his dreams well this time—just flashes, things he knew he must not have had control of and didn’t really want to remember…like girls having their chests sawn open, and bones popping out of people’s legs, and classrooms full of laughing students who had no idea or didn’t care that the world had just ended.

He wondered what Fabi must have made of it all. But no way in hell was he gonna ask her.

“Dude, let’s go to the mall,” was the first thing she said to him when he rustled awake. She was standing over him, hands on hips, fully dressed in a huge holey sweatshirt with the sleeves cut short, a pair of ragged Daisy Dukes, and her perpetual scuffed combat boots. Rory zoned out for a moment on the downy dark hairs on her long brown legs.

“The mall?” he mumbled. “What are we, fourteen?”

“I want Dippin’ Dots, bruh. Don’t judge me.”

“You’re high, aren’t you?”

“Not really. … Just a little.” She kicked him in the butt. “Come on, mofo. Get dressed.”

•─────☾ ☽─────•

“I bet you were a mall rat in your day, huh?” Fabi scarfed a humongous spoonful of her Candy Bar Crunch Dippin’ Dots, then cringed, her cheeks full as a chipmunk’s, and made a whimpering sound in her throat. Her huge bites, Rory had pointed out, were what was causing her brain freeze, but she didn’t seem interested in showing more restraint.

“Yeah, definitely.” He half-laughed, half-groaned, then stabbed his spoon at his own ice cream pellets—Cookies ’n Cream. A mall cop swaggered by, narrowed his eyes at the pair of them. Made a show of bringing his hand to rest on the walkie-talkie on his belt like it was a gun in a holster.

Rory grinned. I guess some things never change.

“Especially after I dropped out of Arcanus,” he went on. “Jesus, I was such a tool back then. Got into so many almost-fights with random dudes. That was me in those days—always cruising for a fight or a fuck. Never really did get either. Not at the mall, I mean…which is probably a good thing.”

“That implies you got your fights and fucks elsewhere.” Fabi grinned.

“I got my fucks.” Rory grinned too, nursed his Dots. “I probably would’ve gotten killed in a fight—if I didn’t lose my shit and kill the other guy first. I didn’t know what I was capable of back then, you know? Maybe the instinct would’ve kicked in if it came to it, who the fuck knows. But yeah, shit. I trolled some big-ass dudes. Whole groups of big dudes. I think I for-real wanted to die.”

“I so feel that. Too scared to straight-up kill yourself, so you go taunting fate, hoping it’ll spare you the trouble.”

“Yeah.” Rory expelled a sigh. “I don’t think I’ve ever talked to anyone else who gets it. I always just thought I was insane.”

“No way, dude. We’re the only sane ones, you and me.” Fabi tossed her empty Dippin’ Dots container and spoon in the base of a fake tree.

“How you figure?”

Fabi did a three-hundred-and-sixty-degree turn, her eyes sweeping the garish storefronts, the throngs of other mall patrons. “Just look at these schmucks. Out buying useless shit made by infants in some so-called developing country because, like a drug, it stimulates dopamine responses in their brains. Because every single time they come here, they trick themselves into thinking the next gadget they buy, or designer dress, or bullshit weight loss product, or spinning dildo that sings, whatever-the-fuck-it-may-be, is gonna change their fucking life; fucking grant them, I don’t know, enlightenment or some shit. Until, of course, a few days later at the most, when the brand-spanking-shiny newness wears off, and the new useless thingamadooge ends up forgotten in some closet, maybe even with the tag still attached, and the asshole who bought it is right back wherever they started, where they always end up, where their spouse doesn’t love them and their boss is a dickhead and their company doesn’t care about them and politicians lie to them and creditors are hounding them and their kids want nothing to do with them, and what they don’t even know yet is a mutation in one or two of their cells from years of stuffing their face with grain-fed cow flesh or breathing smog day-in-day-out is already there, biding its time, waiting for its chance, a decade or two down the road, to proliferate like crazy through their whole body and kill them slowly, painfully, pointlessly from within. And yo—that’s not even the best part.” She flashed Rory a lupine grin. “They’re the lucky ones in this shitsack world. Better to just say fuck-all and go out in style, don’tcha think?”

Rory’s only response was an uneasy laugh, and to jam his last spoonful of Dots in his mouth.

They shambled along in silence for a moment.

Then, “How’s your shut-in?” Fabi asked.

It took Rory a second to realize she meant Max. “Oh. You know. She’s…Max. We’ve kind of stopped talking all that much. Still fucking like rabbits, though.”

“Yo, what more can you really hope for from a relationship.”

Rory snorted. “Yeah…at least for an asshole like me. Max is actually a really great girl, you know? It’s not her fault she’s the way she is. But I keep, I don’t know, getting mad at her for being so…helpless. I can’t ever say no to her, you know? I can’t fight with her. I can’t ask her for anything. If I could fix her, or at least make her feel better, it’d be different. But nothing I do ever seems to matter. So it all just feels…pointless. It’s selfish, I know. I’m a self-centered piece of shit.”

“It’s called being a human fucking being.”

Rory eyed Fabi sidelong. “You never judge me,” he said, with a little hard smile.

“Of course not. You’re shit. I’m shit. Everyone and everything is shit. Might as well embrace it.” Fabi’s eye darted to a middle-aged couple walking past them. “Hey, baby,” she yelled at the wife, her arms spread wide. “Wanna fuck?”

The woman’s mouth formed an O of shock. Her husband’s arm whipped around her shoulders, pulled her closer as he aimed a hard glare at Fabi over his shoulder.

Rory waited till the couple was safely out of earshot before letting his stunned laughter tumble out. “You’re fucking insane.”

Fabi wiggled her eyebrows. “Behold!” She stopped short with a sweeping gesture. “The Mecca of mindless consumerism.”

Rory followed her gaze: saw the As Seen on TV Store up ahead.

“I dare you to go in there and steal something completely useless.” Fabi elbowed Rory in his side.

Rory grinned at her. “Child’s play.”

He tossed out his Dippin’ Dots container, and he and Fabi wandered into the store together, steering clear of the bored-looking teen behind the register.

“What should I take?” Rory whispered.

Fabi tapped her lips thoughtfully, scanned the shelves. “Slap Chop—boring. Neckline Slimmer…nah. Wait.” She grabbed Rory’s arm. “Oh my God. Oh my God.” Fabi clapped a hand over her mouth to muffle her laughter, did a little dance as she jabbed her finger at a large box featuring a picture of a white man on the can using a golf putter to knock a ball into a hole on a synthetic grass toilet rug.

“Hell fucking no, girl. Potty Putter’s way too big.”

“You’re right, you’re right. Guessing you’re rusty at this. I’ll go easier on ya.” Fabi rambled ahead, then slowed to a halt beside the endcap, staring, enraptured. “Rory. Rory.” Her hand flapped wildly by her side, waving him over. He joined her.

On the screen of a little TV, a smiling woman gripped a dumbbell in both hands as it thrust suggestively up and down in her grip.

“What…the fuck,” whispered Rory.

Fabi bounced around in a circle, heaving into her cupped hands, eyeliner-stained tears of joy running down her cheeks.

Rory stifled a giggle of his own. “Wow.” He picked up the display model, switched it on. Posed for Fabi while holding it perpendicular to one side of his face, pushing out the opposite cheek with his tongue in sync with the repetitive motion.

“This is the one. This is the one.” Fabi ran in place, punched him on the arm. “Do it, Rory. Fulfill your destiny, Rory: Shoplift the Shake Weight.”

“I’mma take this display one,” Rory whispered. “We’ve developed an emotional bond.”

“Naw, bruh, too easy. You have to take one that’s still in the box.”

“Fine.” Rory pouted, restored the display model to the shelf. “You’ll always be my first,” he reassured it, with a tender caress, then picked up one of its still-packaged fellows, tucked it under his arm.

Glanced around. Whistled nonchalantly.

“Real subtle,” Fabi grinned.

Rory’s adrenaline started pumping as he and Fabi reached the front end of the aisle, peered around the endcap at the kid behind the register.

“He’s totally gonna see us,” Rory whispered. “We’re the only people in the store.”

“That’s what makes it fun,” Fabi whispered back.

“Okay, well…you leave first. If he sees you, he’ll totally remember your hair.”

“Where’m I going?”

“In the store next-door. I’ll meet up with you there.”

“You better not go up there and pay for that thing, ya fuckin’ Boy Scout.”

“The fuck you think I am?”

Fabi arched an eyebrow at him. “I’mma stay where I can see the register. So make sure you don’t.”

“Whatevs.”

Rory hung back as Fabiana sauntered out of the store, hands in pockets. Saw her tip her chin up at the kid behind the counter. “’Tsup.”

Once she was gone, Rory waited a few seconds, then peered around the endcap again. The young clerk’s eyes were glued boredly to his phone.

Rory positioned the Shake Weight at his side, where he hoped his lanky frame would hide it from view. Walked briskly but casually toward the exit.

Just as he was crossing the threshold—

“Hey, man. Where you going with that? Hey!”

Rory’s heart rate spiked at the sight of the kid starting toward him. He wasn’t all that big, but—like most males over fifteen—he was bigger than Rory.

Rory stood rooted in place for a beat.

Then, unleashed a hex. A small one.

Just before he broke into a run, he saw the clerk stop short in front of the register and waver on his feet, blinking furiously, massaging the bridge of his nose.

Fabi was waiting in the thoroughfare with a wild grin on her face. She darted forward to join Rory as he ducked into the electronics store next-door.

This place was busier, more crowded. No one seemed to notice the two of them as they caught each other’s hand and made a breathless beeline for the back.

They came to a halt in an isolated corner near a wall of flatscreen TVs.

“Dude, what’d you do to him?” Fabi gasped.

“Just twanged his retinas a little—I think. Shouldn’t be permanent or anything.”

Fabi grinned. “Once a Boy Scout, always a Boy Scout.”

“I guess you think I shoulda hosed him, you evil bitch.”

“Nah. Not that poor working schlub.” Fabi held out an invisible microphone. “Sir, you are now the proud owner of a Shake Weight. How do you feel?”

“Super gay. It feels good.”

Fabi giggled. Rory joined in, his pulse still racing. You make me feel almost alive. His eyes traced the exaggerated curve of her upper lip, the impossibly long line of her neck.

“We are coming to you live from the Cook County Jail, where Bryce Archer, who was convicted along with two other Northwestern University athletes of raping a freshman fellow student at a fraternity party in September of 2007, is about to walk down these steps any minute now, a free man.”

Rory’s and Fabi’s eyes met.

In unison, the two of them turned to face the wall of TVs. The same local news coverage was plastered across every screen.

“The mood is tense here in front of the jail,” the reporter went on. “As you can see, a crowd has gathered—most of them protesters unhappy that twenty-two-year-old Archer is set to walk free after serving such a short sentence.”

“Did you hear about this guy?” Fabi asked.

Rory was silent for a beat. “I might’ve seen something about it.”

“His girlfriend got drunk at a party. Made out with another guy. This fuckstick Archer flies off the handle. Announces to a whole crowd of his friends how this girl is a whore and deserves to be raped.

“Fast-forward to a couple of hours later. Girl wakes up on a pool table with one of his shithead friends balls-deep in her. Archer and the other guy on either side, holding her down.” Fabi’s eyes, when she again turned them on Rory, had a harsh glint. “They tried to say they didn’t know she was drunk. Tried to say she wanted it. That it had been a longtime fantasy of hers, more than one guy at once. Their lawyers made the poor girl read a naughty fanfic she wrote out loud at the trial. Finally, witnesses came forward; testified to the shit that monster said about how his own girlfriend should be raped. They got a conviction. And even after all that, fuckstick gets less than a year in jail.” Fabi swung her gaze back to the nearest TV. “Judge said he didn’t wanna ruin the kid’s life for ‘one poor decision’ he made while he was drunk and upset.” A cold smile curled her lips. “But the real moral of the story is, you can do anything you want—to anyone you want—if your daddy’s rich.”

Camera flashes lit up the screen. Rory heard the angry jeers of the crowd, the frantic shouting of reporters, as a tall, blond, well-dressed young man emerged from the jail, escorted by officers, and was met by a detail of bodyguards who surrounded him, ushered him down the sidewalk to a waiting car.

“That”—Fabi leaned in closer, lowered her voice to the sparest whisper—“is someone who ought to be terminated with extreme prejudice.”

Rory was silent as he eyed the live footage of the BMW pulling away from the curb.

“Just think,” Fabi went on softly. “You could do it. Wipe the world clean of human filth like Bryce Archer. With impunity.” The intensity of her gaze set the side of Rory’s face tingling. “With the kind of power you have, isn’t it almost a calling?”

Rory’s pulse drummed a slow bass cadence in his ears. “It’s not my place.” He cleared his throat. “I’m not a judge. Much less an executioner.”

The feed cut back to the newsroom. The graphic over the anchor’s shoulder featured a grinning yearbook photo of Bryce Archer: clean-cut, confident, handsome. There was something in his dark-eyed gaze that set Rory’s teeth on edge.

“If you won’t do it,” said Fabiana, with a wistful note in her voice, “who will?”

NEXT CHAPTER: CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN
PREVIOUS CHAPTER: CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE
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