Prologue—Rock, Paper, Scissors
“Hunger pains knotted his stomach and his expressionless eyes stared nowhere. The boy’s dog cowered beneath the bed.”
He was standing in a victory pose on top of a small dirt pile when hunger pains twinged his stomach. His thoughts shifted back to reality and he lowered his imaginary rifle. He could see his house from top the hill. A white concrete block home with red colored trim and shutters. The screen door opened and his mother stepped out. She looked his way and with hands on each side of her mouth she yelled, “Steven.” He couldn’t hear her voice, but she always called him Steven when angry. She was the only one in their house that called him Steven. Rarely anyone called his name, not even his sister Cathy. When she mentioned his name, it was only for reference. “I didn’t do it, Steven did it.” His father, if he referred to him at all, called him boy. Or ”Hey, I’m talking to you, so pay attention.”
Sliding down the hill, he began running as soon as his feet hit the ground. Sweat collected dirt as it trickled down his face. Even knowing the consequences for missing dinner, he ran as fast as he could. To not run would make it worse. “Maybe today would be different,” he thought.
The last light of day threw long shadows off objects on the dresser—an alarm clock, a small trophy, a baseball glove. The boy lay sideways across the bed, feet almost touching the floor. He was small and thin for a child of ten, and his dusty blond hair was a stark contrast to his ruddy and tanned complexion. His skin glistened with sweat from the hot summer day. He waited.
He waited for punishment—punishment for a missed dinner. Drop your drawers, lie on your bed—wait for the penalty. Those were the rules, and this was the punishment. Hunger pains knotted his stomach and his expressionless eyes stared nowhere. The boy’s dog cowered beneath the bed. The only sound was the ticking of a clock until the door moaned. He flinched, squeezing his eyes tightly shut. There was a faint click—metal on metal. The buckle let go. Then leather zipped through pant loops hissing like a snake. The smell of alcohol and cigarette smoke weighted the air. The boy’s muscles wrenched taut; anticipation grew.
First the sound of leather—whooshing. Then the explosion of pain. Then again, and again, until his defiance begins to fade. Suddenly the boy cries out, and the room falls silent to the monotone-ticking clock. Only then, the door would open and close. If there were a lesson, it was never learned, and like breathing, there were no memories of when it began, and no knowledge of when it would end.
The boy lay still for a moment, exhausted and drained. Gradually the pain gave way to a tingling sensation that finally faded to numbness. He fastened his pants and slid to the floor. Crawling under the bed, he drew his dog to his side, caressing her silky hair to comfort her until she stopped shaking. This was the final day of crying. There would be no more pleading, no more tears. His heart changed this day—hardened. In one instant, hatred replaced fear, and it even trumped the pain. A thought flickered in the recesses of his mind as he drifted off to sleep; if crying was the game, he would steal it from him—rock, paper, scissors.