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Fiction Historical Fiction Science Fiction

This story contains sensitive content

CW: mentions of child abuse, domestic violence, needles/drip, strong language, panic attack situation.

If Ian concentrated just right, he could make his skin glow enough to light up the entire room. 

Lightning Bug, Sister Dolores had called him at first. Never with a smile, never fondly, but still in a way that made him feel useful. It made him feel like she was pleased he was that way, just like Captain Bennet, and that coming to the House with all the other children was what he was made to do.

Thunderfly, she began to call him when the glow wouldn’t come anymore. He’d try. But it would itch and then it would hurt and then he’d feel the heft of the captain and the sister waiting for the specialness and usefulness to come back. When it wouldn’t, and specialness and usefulness became uselessness and ordinariness, he became the annoying little bug that hung around on the walls. Just one step out of line and just one squash of Sister Dolores’ prayer-calloused fingers, and he would be gone. A burden lifted from them all indeed, she would say. But squashing him would be so frightfully messy and so frightfully ungodly and, frankly, such a frightful waste of time that the sister would just have to make do with a slap of a shoe on the back of his head. 

In a place where all the children did things, she’d tut, one lacking in ability was needed not. She and Captain Bennet would make sure Ian got the glow back. 

On the first night of it, the sister came when the small hand was on the ten. A shadow in the doorway, a wimple backlit by the hall, a pair of crow’s feet tinged green from his Michelangelo nightlight. 

Ian had already been staring at the door, concentrating on the turtle’s glow and forcing it to fizzle the fear away. He had no glow of his own now, after all. Before, back when he was home, he could let it come out each night as the sun went away and the darkness came. The monsters under the bed couldn’t reach through the gleam of his skin. Their claws couldn’t pierce it like they otherwise might – talons would get caught in solid light instead of tearing papery skin. Ian didn’t have that anymore. All he did have was a plastic turtle on the far side of the room that painted him sicky. The monsters may not have gotten him yet but they would soon, Ian was sure. He was always proven right when the sister appeared in the dark.

It lit her up just as his skin had him, illuminating her foul face and its equally foul distaste. Ian thought she was a cow. A great big, fat, ugly cow with ugly hands that grasped his shoulders as she pulled him from the bed. If he was a lightning bug, she was a gooey caterpillar that someone had stepped on. Step, splat, and her scowling face would be found in the gook on the bottom of Ian’s shoe.

“You’re needed.” She unhooked his drip from its clasp on the wall.

“And you’re a mean old bitch.” He retorted and felt the pride that came with it. That’s what his Da always called Mom, anyway. From the sharpness of it when it had shot out of his Da’s mouth, Ian knew it must’ve been bad. And that was good. Sister Dolores deserved the bad. She deserved the middle finger he flourished too.

In lieu of a shoe to wield, she cuffed his head with her palm. Ian didn’t think much of that. His Da could always hit harder.

“Language.

Ian was sure his glare looked twice as fierce in the green.

Bitch.

Before he knew it, his head was stinging with another cuff and his pyjama shirt was being pulled along by the neck. Ian scrambled to grab his drip pole before it could be pulled out. 

“You’re a terror for no reason, Master Wright,” she gave a sniff, “The Lord will not thank you for it.”

“I don’t like the Lord. And I don’t like you.”

That was deserving of a smack too, painful in all the ways an under-stuffed couch was. She couldn’t be bothered to answer him this time and kept her attention latched to the drag of him down the hallway. Down the hallway, down the stairs, down another hallway, down another flight of stairs. Down, down, downdy-down-down-down, until the front of Ian’s neck was bruised from the vice of his collar and they were in a room that he’d never seen before. 

He may not have liked the Lord, in all his unhelpful glory, but he liked this room less. Captain Bennet was in it, for one. There were hardly any lights, for another. It was like the room where they’d first put in his drip when he’d arrived, Ian supposed. The one where they’d bring him every week just to take his blood away. Ian didn’t know where they took it. Ian didn’t care. What could they possibly do with it, anyway?

“Good evening, Ian,” 

The crouch the captain sunk into left him a good couple of heads too short for their faces to meet naturally. Ian’s neck was taught on both sides – scratching Sister Dolores’ claws on the back and craning down to observe Captain Bennet at the front. Much like the knees of the captain’s slacks, Ian’s skin was stretched to breaking point.

“What happened to those pyjamas I gave you?” he continued, “The Power Rangers ones?”

Captain Bennet gave all the kids new pyjamas when they arrived at the House. Russ’ had Batman, Vicky’s had Sailor Moon, Lydia’s had baseball mitts. Ian couldn’t remember the others’. They were all the kind he’d seen in the stores when he went shopping with Mom. When he’d eye her wallet from beside her too, longing for a Star Wars set instead of Da’s old t-shirt. It never garnered anything but a calm smile and a Brooklyn-dipped explanation. Ain’t got enough ones for a foot-long paperchain, hun.

“He soiled them last night.” The sister’s voice came, coated in bitterness rather than Bushwick. 

“Did not.” 

But Ian could feel his face burning and he knew alabaster was flushing pink. His denial could do nothing to erase Sister Dolores’ words, nor Captain Bennet’s flicker of annoyance.

“Is that right, Ian?” He inspected Ian’s vest and gym shorts with a graze of his eyes. Michelangelo wasn’t bright enough, Ian could’ve said. The monster whispering under his bed sounded like Da, Ian could’ve said. I was scared again, Ian could’ve said. I don’t like it here, Ian could’ve said.

“I didn’t mean to.” Ian said. 

Bent legs straightened to their normal looming height. A taught neck cricked upwards to meet the one that looked down.

“You continue to disappoint me, Ian,” Captain Bennet sighed, “First your ability stops working and now this. What are we going to do with you?”

He sounded like Da too. 

“I didn’t mean to.” Ian said. Glowing or pissing his pants, he didn’t know what his own words referred to. A fierceness was there either way, one that knocked the captain’s brow into its own ferocious furrow. 

“Put him in the room, Sister,” 

Ian’s fingers tightened on the drip pole.

“And maybe then we’ll see about that ability of yours.” 

Then and only then did Sister Dolores’ grip weaken. Great pincers of bone and nail became nothing but sausages that chilled his skin. If not for the sagging swirl of her aged fingerprints and the smell of her soap, Ian could’ve kidded himself that Mom was standing behind him. But Mom had smelt of lemons, not carbolic, and she hadn’t been alive long enough to wrinkle.

 “Captain Bennet, I was under the impression that we’d be going down the medicinal route,” her warbly way of speaking convinced Ian further that it was nothing but her shadow creeping up his back, “Are you… sure that’s the best way?”

Ian didn’t know what the hell they were talking about. Ian didn’t want to know what the hell they were talking about. Ian wanted to go to bed.

“Dr. Whistler was the one to suggest it, actually,” the captain assured, “He tells me that the benefits of stress are quite large when it comes to the brain. Releases chemicals, hormones, that sort of thing.”

“But–”

His eyebrow gave a quirk. “Are you saying you disagree with Dr. Whistler, Sister? Should I inform him of this revelation? After all, honesty is second nature for someone such as yourself.”

He was doing that voice. Sarcasm, maybe, just like Da had accused Ian of whenever it suited him. Ian thought sarcasm was pointless, though. Easier to just say things outright. Sister Dolores was a cow, Captain Bennet’s hair looked like a rat, Russ was bad at soccer, the nightlight Benny had let him borrow was the ugliest thing he’d ever seen. That sort of thing. Sarcasm was pointless and Da didn’t like it and Ian never did anything he thought Da didn’t like. That’s why he agreed to come to the House in the first place.

“Of course, Captain.”

Ian often thought Sister Dolores liked the captain more than she liked the Lord. It wasn’t hard to believe when he listened to the tone of her voice, obedient like the dog Da would never let him have. Her hard grip was back again too. It pushed him to a door on the far side of the room this time, his drip wheeling miserably behind him.

“Let go,” Ian yanked himself away, “I don’t want to! Leave me alone!”

A hard grip it may have been, but not hard enough to overcome an eight-and-a-half-year-old with anger issues piling to the moon and back. Ian was away from her in seconds.

“Now, now, Ian,”

Away from her and into the new arms of Captain Bennet.

“You don’t even know what we want you to do.”

What we want you to do. They always wanted things done. With all of the children. Not a day went by when something didn’t need doing. And not a day went by when Ian didn’t have to do something he very much did not want to do at all.

“I’m not doing anything!” His legs made for the door, stunted though they were by a bruise on his knee and the clobber of drip wheels over tiles. Captain Bennet grabbed him round the waist, lifted him off the floor, unhooked his bag from the pole with a withering look. Sister Dolores had opened the door and Ian could see inside now, right inside, at the room that was nothing but black and black and more black. No lights, no windows, just the tar of darkness that Ian knew would swallow him whole.

No!” he yelled, “No! Put me down! Bastard! Bitch! Put me down!”

Ian grappled with the arms around him. His fingers dug, his nails scratched, but the two just got closer and closer. 

Enough, Ian,” The captain’s bellow almost deafened him. With a quick thrust, he half-heartedly threw Ian into the room. His ass hit the floor, the sharp bone hitting the sharper brick, and his drip bag bounced next to him. Captain Bennet’s hand rested on the door frame.

“You will stay here and think about your disobedience and you will not leave until your ability comes back.”

The door shut.

Ian was left in the tar.

No!” he scrambled through the pitch black, ignoring the way it made him feel his insides were going to crawl out his mouth, “Let me out!”

But it had occurred to Ian at some point in the last century of seconds that that was the entire point. That was the entire point of him drowning in this blackness. 

BASTARD!” he slammed his hands on the door he couldn’t see, “YOU’RE A BASTARD!” 

The tar only built. Cloying and clogging his throat with the dark. Such a dense darkness it was, Ian could almost smell it. He wanted to reach for the door handle, to tug and shout until it released some pity. But he couldn’t see the handle. He couldn’t see anything. There was nothing, just nothing. Ian was locked in the nothing, swallowing it, breathing it in, the way he’d always been so afraid of.

He backed away from the door.

“Please,”

Tears. Those were tears in his voice.

Please,

A sob.

“I don’t like the dark.”

Nothing and nothing upon nothing and nothing. The monsters were stirring, Ian could hear them. Rustling, chirping, crawling the walls ready to pounce. Just Ian and the nothing and the monsters and their sounds.

Stop,

It might’ve hurt, the way he smacked his hand over his ears. It might’ve tugged the needle out and made a sticky red puddle on the floor. He didn’t know. It was hard to know in the nothing.

Now there was something else in the nothing too – his heartbeat galloping a rhythm in his brain and in his skull and under his Supercuts trim. 

thud

thud

thud

thud

thud

thud

thu–

–nch

–unch

punch

punch

punch.

Ian was in the nothing and in his own head too. In his brain, his skull, his Supercuts trim. In that memory, The Memory, the punch-punch-punch that had stayed with him for the four years that had passed. Heartbeats morphed into the sounds of a fist in a face, over and over and over.

Mom,

He’d been standing in the doorway. Da in the living room, Mom on the floor, both where Ian could see them. Ian in the nothing, Mom in the punch-punch-punch.

Mom in the punch-punch-punch, Mom in the ground, Mom in the nothing.

Ian had glowed then. For the first time. Da had been mad. Da had tried to beat it out of him. That had only made him glow brighter.

“Let me out!”

A voice muffled through the door. Which one? The one in the tar or the one in Brooklyn? He could hear Da’s voice, couldn’t he? But he could hear Captain Bennet’s too, that raspy accent he had, and he could feel the palms on his ears. The tug of the needle. A warm patch on his gym shorts and a trickle down his leg.

Dumb fucking kid’s pissed himself again, Lou. He needs to grow the hell up.

And then Ian felt the itch. A tingle and a sting and the white haze pushing through his eyelashes.

Ian lowered his hands.

He opened his eyes.

This time, he wasn’t sure if the glow of his hands was enough to make the monsters go away.

March 25, 2022 22:21

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12 comments

Alex Sultan
02:56 Mar 29, 2022

This was really good. I liked the last line a lot - you did so well building up Ian as a character and I was immersed, so it did work for me. The whole adding a tangible feeling to the darkness was well done too, and it's always great to see you keep your style with the repetition on 'thud'. I hope you plan to write more on this series. Each has read like a good novel excerpt while still working as a short story. You've had the captain in each of them, will you do a backstory on him at some point? He strikes me as a character with depth. A...

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Janey El Napier
10:27 Mar 29, 2022

You always give such nice comments so thank you! I definitely plan to write more, and I'm sure the captain will get his own time to shine at some point - I'm just not sure how yet! It always means a lot when you give feedback as I think you're a really great writer! :)

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Janey El Napier
22:23 Mar 25, 2022

Howdy readers! I just wanted to make a quick comment to clarify some things! This is the third part of a series I’ve been doing recently that I have finally given the title ‘The Eighty-Fivers” (maybe one day I’ll actually explain why it’s called that haha). Each story can be read as a standalone so you definitely don’t need to read others to read this one! But, if you’re interested in this universe, I’ll be putting a list in my bio of all the stories within the series from now on. Obviously not every story I’m going to write will be a part o...

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Frank Lester
22:18 Mar 30, 2022

I found this story remarkably interesting and very disturbing, especially towards the end. The emotion of the story was strongest at the end. If that was the plan, well done. The beginning confused me. I'm not sure what the glow was. Anger?? Fear?? I didn't understand what was in the bag attached to Ian's arm and how it was supposed to affect him, and I didn't see the connection between the story and science fiction or historical fiction. Overall, I think had the narrator used personal pronouns more than Ian's formal name, the intimacy bet...

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Janey El Napier
23:24 Mar 30, 2022

Hi! Thanks for your comment! As for your questions about the glow: though it may come off as a metaphorical thing, it is met to be literal - Ian can literally glow and the discussion of drips and them taking his blood is supposed to infer that he is living somewhere where he is being experimented on, hence the sci-fi tag. As for historical fiction, there are a few references to imply that it is set in the 90s - I suppose its not your typical historical fiction but I tagged it anyway! :) Your point about personal pronouns is definitely take...

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Frank Lester
11:35 Mar 31, 2022

You're welcome and thanks for the explanation. It's much clearer to me now. Glad I could help. Be well.

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Janey El Napier
12:12 Mar 31, 2022

Hope you stay well too :)

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Riel Rosehill
07:53 Mar 30, 2022

Hey Elizabeth! This was such an amazng read - so vivid, gripping and well-crafted. The characterisation was great and I could really feel everything the MC felt: all the fear, the anger, the pride... Such an emotional read, I really fel for this little Thunderfly boy. One thing I really admired here: you managed to say SO much in so few words. Sign of a good writer!

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Janey El Napier
10:15 Mar 30, 2022

Wow! Thank you for such kind words! Glad you enjoyed it! :)

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S. Thomson
09:28 Mar 28, 2022

Another great story! Your best asset as a writer is definitely character voice, that's evident from reading this story. I loved "prayer-calloused fingers" and also the sentence that follows "Easier to just say things outright..." Well done, this is a great story. I will definitely have to go back and read the others in the series :))

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Janey El Napier
09:58 Mar 28, 2022

Thank you! Its always so lovely to read your comments! :)

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S. Thomson
10:26 Mar 28, 2022

You're very welcome :) and thank you it feels good to be back after a little break!

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