Satire

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This Little Light
Excerpt

T H I S  L I T T L E  L I G H T

BLOGLOG: Rory Anne Miller 11/27/2024—9:51 pm

We’re trending. Rory Miller. Feliza Lopez. In this moment, on this night, we’re the most famous girls in America.

Those pics you’ve seen in your feeds and on TV over the past few hours? Two fresh-faced teens in bridal couture on the arms of their daddies at tonight’s American Virtue Ball? That’s me and Fee, my best friend. The grainy footage from the school surveillance cameras of two figures in white gowns climbing up into the smoky hills after the bomb exploded at Sacred Heart High? Also us. It’s true that guilty people run. Scared people run too. They’re calling us the Villains in Versace.

What they’re saying about us? First—who wears Versace to a purity ball? I wore Mishka. Fee wore Prada. The details matter. The truth—which is not somewhere in the middle as guilty people like to say—is vital. Like oxygen. The truth is that Fee and I did not try to blow up the chastity ball at Sacred Heart High tonight. We had nothing to do with that thing they found in my car, either. And we have no involvement whatsoever with the Red Market. We’re not the spawn of Satan you’re loading your Walmart rifles to hunt.

If I’m being honest? Totally honest? I’ve spent a stupid amount of time daydreaming about being famous, and how amazing it’d be to have millions of followers. That’s normal, right? A shallow distraction from reality? I live in California, after all, where fame pollutes the atmosphere then penetrates your skin with the UV rays. But this isn’t fame. It’s infamy. And I feel like I do in my recurring naked-at-school nightmare—gross and exposed.

Careful what you wish for? Fee and I don’t have followers so much as we have trolls and trackers. We’re being flayed in the media. Convicted by social. And now we’re freaking fugitives, hiding out in this scrap metal shed behind a little cabin in the mountains overlooking Malibu.

I’m so thankful for this old pink laptop—courtesy of Javier, who’s letting us hide in his shed, which I’ll explain later. I’ve caught up on the fake news and read all the hate tweets. Bombers? Religious terrorists? Red Market runners, trafficking stolen babies? It feels like a joke, but it’s not. And to make it even more real, the rock evangelist Reverend Jagger Jonze just put up a million-dollar reward for our capture. There’s a freaking bounty on our heads. So here we sit in this shed. No way to defend ourselves. Nowhere to run.

My throat hurts from swallowing screams. And the worst thing—I mean, worst is relative under these circumstances—but Fee is really sick. She’s curled up beside me under a tattered blanket, not really awake but groaning. Whatever’s wrong with her, it started at the ball, and once we got here, she basically collapsed. Her forehead’s hot. She’s pale. Something she ate? She barely ate today. Flu? I don’t know.

In order to remain calm-ish, I’m going to write our side of the story. I’m afraid we’ll be tracked to the shed if I post entries in real time, so I won’t submit until I know we’re safe. This old laptop has had a long-life battery upgrade, thank God. I could write all night. Maybe I will. Wouldn’t be the first time. Won’t be the last. Writing? It’s the only way I’ve ever been able to make sense of my life.

Just this afternoon, Fee and I were with our other best friends—Brooklyn Leon, Zara Rohanian and Delaney Sharpe, all of us students at Sacred Heart High School—getting ready for the ball at Jinny Hutsall’s house. Hutsalls are beyond rich, so they hired a StyleMeNow crew to come over and do our hair, paint our nails, curl our lashes and plump our lips, which I did not hate. We sipped the champagne Jinny’d cadged from the fridge—a very unJinny move, now I think about it—and snapped a hundred pics of our virgin-bride splendor, while our tuxedoed daddies tossed back Manhattans on Warren Hutsall’s lanai. The others got giggly, but slipping into my gorgeous Mishka, I felt nothing but dread.

It wasn’t about the virginity pledge we were about to take. My friends and I weren’t serious about that. Not really, or not all of us. The Virtue Ball was a swag grab, a couture gown, a brush with celebrity, a photo op. Or at least that’s what we said. For me? As an atheist who definitely won’t be saving it until marriage, it was also an opportunity to do some reporting for my blog. That’s what I told myself, over and above the dread, which I’ll explain later.

Driving there tonight, I still hadn’t decided if I’d dig into the hellaciousness of vowing chastity to our fathers or if I’d go with a softer piece acknowledging the father/daughter bonding but include some solid stats to show that teaching abstinence doesn’t work. I hadn’t decided which angle would get me more likes. That’s the truth. I hadn’t quite got to the point where I actually was considering exposing the whole corrupt deal. Too scared, maybe?

Well, I know which way I’ll go now. Though I couldn’t have imagined I’d be writing about how Fee and I became outlaws hiding in a seven-by-eight-foot shed, crowded by a greasy lawn mower, a couple of leaf blowers, a tangle of fishing rods, three old suitcases and some fat white trash bags leaking lawn clippings.

When I look up, I can see the full moon and stars blinking through gaps in the aluminum roof, and the distant lights from passing planes. There are no doubt already bounty hunters out there looking for us in their MiniCops and GarBirds—those homemade flying jobbies people get shipped from China to build in their garages even though they’re totally illegal. They’re crowdsourcing our capture. It’s all over the news.

There’s a window at the front of the shed that looks out over the rocky cliffs, and from there I can see the neighbor’s trailer a hundred or so yards away—an ancient silver Airstream, the front tow-hitch propped off-kilter on three big cinder blocks, a big blue tarp that was strung up to make an awning over the porch billowing in the breeze. Light from a television was flickering in the front window when I looked out before. No vehicle in the driveway, though.

I’ve seen a couple of drones whir by. Definitely looking for us. The new cam-drones are so quiet and acrobatic you don’t see them until they’re on you taking surveillance. I noticed an UberCopter pass a few minutes ago. Saw the police helicopters flying back in the direction of Sacred Heart High, where the bomb exploded. With the bounty, and the media firestorm, there will be a lot more of them tomorrow in the daylight. Unless the Santa Anas start blowing. The news is saying we should expect strong winds later tonight, and off and on tomorrow. Crossing freaking fingers. The winds will keep the air traffic down.

The cable stations are covering us round the clock like we’re a weather event—a hurricane or severe snowstorm or a California wildfire so big and bad they gotta give it a name. Fox News is calling our story “The Hunt”—so ugly rhyming memes. My head’s spinning. It’s been torture to go online. But worse not to know. People say you shouldn’t read the comments section. People are right. I seriously want to respond to each one. Like, I want to tell Twitter user @H8UevlGASHES—who suggested the insertion of a broken bottle into our life-giving lady parts—that he does not understand irony. And I want to tell that congresswoman from Texas who just tweeted that Fee and I should have our “eyes sewn open and be forced to watch a late-term abortion” that she should definitely kill the person who does her hair. The guy who started #rape’em1st? He just makes me wanna cry. And? The president tweeted out a White House dinner invitation to Jinny Hutsall and Reverend Jagger Jonze. It would be funny if it weren’t too true.

Our “friend” Jinny is trending too. They’re saying that what happened at the Virtue Ball tonight has ignited an “American Holy War.” Jinny fucking Hutsall. Until that blond-hair, yoga-arm, apple-ass thigh-gap-in-a-tartan-skirt moved in next door a few months ago and joined our class at Sacred Heart High, we were just us. The Hive. Friends since we were toddlers. Now, two of us are the New Targets of Holy War. And the host of tonight’s ball, Reverend Jagger Jonze—the one that put up the million-dollar bounty after everything went down in the parking lot at the AVB? He’s rocketed to superstardom. Just like that. Jagger Jonze is the devil. But more on that later.

First—the bomb. We didn’t set the bomb. And if someone wanted to bomb the ball, why did they blow up the bathroom clear on the other side of the school’s fifteen-acre campus? Nothing makes sense. It’s all just crazy. We’ve been accused of being “runners” doing dastardly deeds for the Red Market. My mother’s always said there’s no such thing as the Red Market. She says it’s a construct—evil alt-right propaganda. I don’t know what to believe. I mean, people have been talking about the Pink Market since long before abortion was banned again. Everyone knows there’s a Pink Market out there helping minors access birth control, and morning-after pills, and getting them to underground clinics and all.

But the Red Market? Supposedly it’s a baby-stealing mafia that supplies product to illegal stem cell research labs. Even the media say “alleged” or “rumored” when they talk about it. Law enforcement officers and politicians are rumored to be involved in the Red Market too. Even if my mother’s wrong, and people are actually that depraved, Fee and I are not, and never have been, and never would be, involved in such foul shit.

I’m scared. No, terrified.

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Bunny
Excerpt

 1.

We call them Bunnies because that is what they call each other. Seriously. Bunny.

Example:
Hi, Bunny!
Hi, Bunny!
What did you do last night, Bunny?
I hung out with you, Bunny. Remember, Bunny?
That’s right, Bunny, you hung out with me and it was the best time I ever had.
Bunny, I love you. I love you, Bunny.

And then they hug each other so hard I think their chests are going to implode. I would even secretly hope for it from where I sat, stood, leaned, in the opposite corner of the lecture hall, department lounge, auditorium, bearing witness to four grown women—my academic peers—cooingly strangle each other hello. Or good-bye. Or just because you’re so amazing, Bunny.  How  fiercely  they  gripped  each  other’s  pink-and-white  bodies, forming a hot little circle of such rib-crushing love and understanding it took my breath away. And then the nuzzling of ski-jump noses, peach fuzzy cheeks. Temples pressed against temples in a way that made me think of the labial rubbing of the bonobo or the telepathy of beautiful, murderous children in horror films. All eight of their eyes shut tight as if this collective asphyxiation were a kind of religious bliss. All four of their glossy mouths making squealing sounds of monstrous love that hurt my face.

I love you, Bunny.

I quietly prayed for the hug implosion all year last year. That their ardent squeezing might cause the flesh to ooze from the sleeves, neckholes, and A-line hems of their cupcake dresses like so much inane frosting. That they would get tangled in each other’s Game of Thrones hair, choked by the ornate braids they were forever braiding into each other’s heart-shaped little heads. That they would choke on each other’s blandly grassy perfume. Never happened. Not once.

They always came apart from these embraces intact and unwounded despite the ill will that poured forth from my staring eyes like so much comic-book-villain venom. Smiling at one another. Swinging clasped hands. Skins aglow with affection and belonging as though they’d just been hydrated by the purest of mountain streams.

Bunny, I love you.

Completely immune to the disdain of their fellow graduate student. Me. Samantha Heather Mackey. Who is not a Bunny. Who will never be a Bunny.

I pour myself and Ava more free champagne in the far corner of the tented green, where I lean against a white Doric pillar bedecked with billowing tulle. September. Warren University. The Narrative Arts department’s annual welcome back Demitasse, because this school is too Ivy and New England to call a party a party. Behold the tigerlily-heavy centerpieces. Behold the Christmas-lit white gauze floating everywhere like so many ghosts. Behold the pewter trays of salmon pinwheels, duck-liver crostini topped with little sugared orchids. Behold the white people in black discussing grants they earned to translate poets no one reads from the French. Behold the lavish tent under which the overeducated mingle, well versed in every art but the one of conversation. Smilingly oblivious to the fact that they are in the mouth of hell. Or as Ava and I call it, the Lair of Cthulhu. Cthulhu is a giant squid monster invented by a horror writer who went insane and died here. And you know what, it makes sense. Because you can feel it when you’re walking down the streets beyond the Warren Bubble that this town is a wrong town. Something not quite right about the houses, the trees, the light. Bring this up and most people just look at you. But not Ava. Ava says, My god, yes. The town, the houses, the trees, the light—it’s all fucked.
 

I stand here, I sway here, full of tepid sparkling and animal livers and whatever hard alcohol Ava keeps pouring from her Drink Me flask into my plastic cup. “What’s in this again?” I ask.

“Just drink it,” she says.

I observe from behind borrowed sunglasses as the women whom I must call my colleagues reunite after a summer spent apart in various trying locales such as remote tropical islands, the south of France, the Hamptons. I watch their fervent little bodies lunge for each other in something like rapture. Nails the color of natural poisons digging into each other’s forearms with the force of what I keep telling myself is feigned, surely feigned, affection. Shiny lips parting to call each other by their communal pet name.

“Jesus, are they for real?” Ava whispers in my ear now. She has never seen them up close. Didn’t believe me when I first told her about them last year. Said, There is no way grown women act like that. You’re making this up, Smackie. Over the summer, I started to think I had too. It is a relief in some ways to see them now, if only to confirm I am not insane.
“Yes,” I say. “Too real.”

I watch her survey them through her fishnet veil, her David Bowie eyes filled with horror and boredom, her mouth an unimpressed red line.

“Can we go now?”

“I can’t leave yet,” I say, my eyes still on them. They’ve pulled apart from one another at last, their twee dresses not even rumpled. Their shiny heads of hair not even disturbed. Their skins glowing with health insurance as they all crouch down in unison to collectively coo at a professor’s ever jumping shih tzu.

Why?”

“I told you, I have to make an appearance.”

Ava looks at me, slipping drunkenly down the pillar. I have said hello to no one. Not the poets who are their own fresh, grunty hell. Not the new incoming fiction writers who are laughing awkwardly by the shrimp tower. Not even Benjamin, the friendly administrator to whom I usually cling at these sorts of functions, helping him dollop quivering offal onto dried bits of toast. Not my Workshop leader from last spring, Fosco, or any other member of the esteemed faculty. And how was your summer, Sarah? And how’s the thesis coming, Sasha? Asked with polite indifference. Getting my name wrong always. Whatever response I offer—an earnest confession of my own imminent failure, a bald-faced lie that sets my face aflame—will elicit the same knowing nod, the same world-weary smile, a delivery of platitudes about the Process being elusive, the Work being a difficult mistress. Trust, Sasha. Patience, Sarah. Sometimes you have to walk  away, Serena. Sometimes, Stephanie, you have to seize the bull by the horns. This will  be followed by the recounting of a similar creative crisis/breakthrough they experienced while on a now-defunct residency in remote Greece, Brittany, Estonia. During which I will nod and dig my fingernails into my upper-arm flesh.

And obviously I haven’t talked to the Lion. Even though he’s here, of course. Somewhere. I saw him earlier out of the corner of my eye, more maned and tattooed than ever, pouring himself a glass of red wine at the open bar. Though he didn’t look up, I felt him see me. And then I felt him see me see him see me and keep pouring. I haven’t seen him since then so much as sensed him in my nape hair. When we first arrived, Ava felt he must be nearby because look, the sky just darkened out of nowhere.

This evening, all I have done in terms of socializing is half smile at the one the Bunnies call Psycho Jonah, my social equivalent among the poets, who is standing alone by the punch, smiling beatifically in his own antidepressant-fueled fever dream.

Ava sighs and lights a cigarette with one of the many tea lights that dot our table. She looks back at the Bunnies, who are now stroking each other’s arms with their small, small hands. “I miss you, Bunny,” they say to each other in their fake little girl voices, even though they are standing right fucking next to each other, and I can taste the hate in their hearts like iron on my tongue.

“I miss you, Bunny. This summer was so hard without you. I barely wrote a word, I was so, so sad. Let’s never ever part again, please?”

Ava laughs out loud at this. Actually laughs. Throws her feathery head back. Doesn’t bother to cover her mouth with her gloved hand. It’s a delicious, raucous sound. Ringing in the air like the evening’s missing music.

Shhhhh,” I hiss at her. But it’s already done.

The laughter causes the one I call the Duchess to turn her head of long, silver faery-witch locks in our direction. She looks at us. First at Ava. Then at me. Then at Ava again. She is surprised, perhaps, to see that for once I’m not alone, that I have a friend. Ava meets her look with wide-open eyes the way I do in my dream stares. Ava’s gaze is formidable and European. She continues to smoke and sip my champagne without breaking eye contact. She once told me about a staring contest she had with a gypsy she met on a metro in Paris. The woman was staring at her, so Ava stared back—the two of them aiming their gazes at each other like guns—all the way across the City of Lights. Just looking at each other from opposite shores of the rattling train. Eventually Ava took off her earrings, still not taking her eyes off the woman. Why? Because her assumption at that point, of course, was that the two of them would fight to the death. But when the train pulled into the last stop on the line, the woman just stood to exit, and when she did so, she even held back the sliding doors politely, so Ava could go first.

What’s the lesson here, Smackie? Don’t jump to conclusions?
Never lower your gaze first.
 
The Duchess, in turning toward us, causes a ripple effect of turning among the other Bunnies. First Cupcake looks over. Then Creepy Doll with her tiger eyes. Then Vignette with her lovely Victorian skull face, her stoner mouth wide open. They each look at Ava, then at me, in turn, scanning down from our heads to our feet, their eyes taking us in like little mouths sipping strange drinks. As they do, their noses twitch, their eight eyes do not blink, but stare and stare. Then they look back at the Duchess and lean in to each other, their lip-glossed mouths forming whispery words.

Ava squeezes my arm, hard.

The Duchess turns and arches an eyebrow at us. She raises a hand up. Is there an invisible gun in it? No. It’s an empty, open hand. With which she then waves. At me. With something like a smile on her face. Hi, her mouth says.

My hand shoots up of its own accord before I can even stop myself. I’m waving and waving and waving. Hi, I’m saying with my mouth, even though no sound comes out.

Then the rest of the Bunnies hold up a hand and wave too.

We’re all waving at one another from across the great shores of the tented green.

Except Ava. She continues to smoke and stare at them like they’re a four-headed beast. When at last I lower my hand, I turn to her. She’s looking at me like I’m something worse than a stranger.

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