(Content Warning: Language, Suicide, Abuse.)
The world is too small for every dream to come true.
A pretty odd thing to say when you think about it, but that’s what Kevin’s dad, Earl, told his son growing up. It’s not hard to ruin a child’s youth, all it takes is a little nudge in the wrong direction, and Earl knew all the right places to push. A light slap to the face, a belt snap to the back, or maybe some thick bruises above the shirt line just to make sure no one noticed. The worst kind of abuse is invisible.
Back then, the phrase child abuse was rarely used. Proper punishment was a more justified thing to say. Growing up in that kind of negative environment was harsh, and most children didn’t know what the other side looked like. Candy canes, lollipops, and money to buy whatever a kid wanted was a fanciful farce that existed only in fairytales or dreams. In the real world, cruel words cut like a knife.
Indeed, some people were born lucky, while others had to face the harsh reality of the cold hard world. Abused children knew the truth well, for there was no such thing as luck. Kevin knew that more than most. His mother had died during childbirth, and every time his father looked into his son’s eyes, there was nothing there but anger. How could a dad hold so much hatred for their own son?
When Kevin was younger, most people thought he had learning disabilities because he didn’t say much, but they were wrong. He just didn’t talk a whole lot for fear of saying the wrong words. For all Kevin knew, everyone had a mean backhand like his father. The normalization of institutional pain was easy to live with because that was the only thing he knew.
Kevin’s only refuge was his vivid imagination and love of stories. He would pass the time by secretly writing tales of woe and wonder and hid them underneath his mattress, so his father wouldn’t find them. Keep your head out of those fairytales and be a real man, he would say.
Earl couldn’t possibly understand his son’s desire for creativity. It was his refuge. A safe place to hide from the demons of the world. Deep within Kevin’s soul, a small flicker of radiant light glowed like a distant star in the universe. A small glimmer of hope and a promise for a brighter tomorrow. Kevin wrote hundreds of short stories and wished he could disappear into those worlds.
When Kevin turned sixteen, Earl got his only son a job at the Wilson Lumber Mill, which was about five miles from their rundown home on Factory Street. It was hard work, but Kevin quickly asserted himself and became a prized employee. Earl wouldn’t let Kevin spend a dime. He made him put every penny in the bank, so he could move out when he turned eighteen.
It so happened that Kevin had the same idea, and for once, a father and son had something they could agree on. Kevin worked hard at the mill and even harder in school. He made good grades and excelled in every class, and yet, he still managed to find time to write his stories.
One day, Kevin’s friend, Billy, got to read one of those stories. He was rummaging around in Kevin’s backpack trying to hide a pack of smokes from Mrs. Turner and came upon the story by accident. The tale was only three pages long and was about a group of renegade pirates searching for their lost treasure, but Billy loved it. He told Kevin that he should enter some writing contests, and that’s what he did.
For the past two years, without his father’s knowledge, Kevin paid a weekly fee of ten dollars to an online writing contest called Sleazy. The grand prize was five hundred dollars, and winners were drawn weekly. Only the best stories won, and Kevin was on cloud nine, knowing he had found his calling.
Every Saturday morning, he would check the winner’s list with high hopes, only to discover that he wasn’t the lucky winner. Most people in his position would hang their heads low and give up, but Kevin was different. Losing gave him the motivation to try harder, and so he did.
Week after week, Kevin tried his hardest to win the writing contest, and week after week, he lost. He was determined to win, but his drive was deterred when his father discovered that his son was wasting money on a fool’s dream.
Writing is for losers!
You’ll never be good at anything!
You can’t win because, in the eyes of your peers, you’re a failure!!
Kevin took his father’s words to heart. Some things can’t be forgiven or forgotten. Time went by, but those wounds never healed. Kevin made a big decision to move out, and this caused more arguments that raged like a burning fire. The flames were so hot that Kevin filled a trash bag full of clothes, grabbed his laptop, and moved in with his best friend, Billy.
Billy’s family welcomed Kevin with loving arms, but the open wounds created by his father wouldn’t heal. He withdrew from everyone and cast himself into his created worlds. He wrote story after story only to fail every week, just like his father said he would. Billy remained steadfast in his dedication and devotion and urged Kevin to keep moving forward. Despite not being an avid reader, Billy enjoyed Kevin’s stories and believed he had a special gift.
In all the turmoil, Kevin lost his job at the Lumber Mill, quit school, and, aside from Billy, isolated himself from the outside world. Kevin hated his father but was glad that he made him save every penny from his work. If it wasn’t for that, Kevin wouldn’t be able to pay Sleazy the contest entry fee.
It was Friday once again, and Kevin had just finished another story. He spent the week hammering out a fantasy adventure about dragons and beautiful maidens that needed rescuing. He uploaded his manuscript, entered his payment information, and hit the submit button. After five minutes of watching a loading circle dancing on his screen, an error message appeared in big, bold red letters.
Payment failed due to insufficient funds. Please reenter your payment information or try another card.
“What the fuck?!” Kevin shouted.
Billy was in the next room playing Mortal Kombat when he heard Kevin’s outrage. He threw the controller down, ran into the next room, and blurted, “What happened?”
Kevin shook his head. “I keep entering my payment information, and it won’t go through!”
“That’s weird,” said Billy. “I thought you had plenty of money saved up?”
“I do. Five thousand dollars, to be exact!”
Billy scrunched his lips and wiggled his nose—a trademark reaction that Kevin knew all too well. “I have an idea,” shot Billy. “There’s an ATM across the street at the Quickie Mart. We could check your balance if you want.”
“Yeah,” agreed Kevin. “It might be quicker because the internet is really slow today.”
The boys strolled over to the Quickie Mart, and Kevin wasted little time entering his information into the ATM. As soon as he pushed the enter button, Kevin almost fainted because he was surprised at the balance. The green computer screen lit up, showing all zeros.
Billy narrowed his eyes and peered over Kevin’s shoulder. “What the hell, dude? It says you have nothing left.”
“I can see that!” Kevin snapped.
He pressed the transaction button with a trembling finger and discovered that all his savings had been withdrawn two days ago.
“Don’t tell me,” Billy gasped. “Your father took all that money, didn’t he?”
“Awe, man. You should have never created a joint checking account with that sleazeball!”
Kevin wrinkled his forehead and roared, “I know that, but I had no choice at the time!”
Billy didn’t know what to say. He knew his words would fall short, so he grabbed Kevin’s arm and walked him back home. After hearing Kevin sob for hours in the solitude of his room, Billy knew he had to do something.
“Hey, Kevin,” Billy whispered behind a closed door. “I know you’re upset, but it’s not the end of the world.”
The door suddenly swung open, and Kevin stood firm with bloodshot eyes. “Yes, it is. There’s no way I can enter that contest now. My life is a complete disaster.”
“No, it’s not! Everyone goes through a bad phase in life. You just have to figure some things out, conquer your demons and pull yourself together.”
“I’m trying,” Kevin sobbed. “I don’t know how much more I can take.”
Billy nodded. “Listen, my friend. I read your story, and I think it’s great. I’m going to pay the entry fee for you because I believe you will win.”
Kevin wiped away a tear and mumbled, “No. I won’t let you do that. I know I’m depressed and have some problems. You’re right. Everything you said was right. I may be a lot of things, but I’m not an idiot. I won’t allow you to do this just because I’m upset.”
“Well, it’s not up to you. Friends don’t do because they have to. They do things because they want to.”
“I appreciate that Billy, but I’m like a shard of broken glass ready to shatter into a million pieces.”
“It’s alright,” Billy said with a warm smile. “Now, let’s go win that contest.”
It took a little more convincing before Kevin would allow Billy to pay the entry fee. He didn’t want the pity of his selfish behavior to spill over to his friend. Billy had already offered so much. A place to live, someone to talk to, and above all else—an unending supply of support. In the end, it was an argument that resulted in Billy doing what he wanted to do. He paid the entry fee for Kevin.
The following morning Kevin awoke to a thunderous pounding on his bedroom door. “Hey, Kevin! Wake up. It’s time to find out who won the contest!”
Oh, shit, I can’t believe I overslept!
Kevin opened the door, fired up his laptop, and logged into Sleazy. The boys looked at each other, took a deep breath, and clicked on the winner’s list. After a brief loading screen, the winner was The Self-destruction of Princess Needs A Lot, by Tiffany Masuku.
Billy gasped as Kevin hung his head low. “Don’t worry about it, man. You’ll get it next week.”
“No,” Billy said. “I’m done. I can’t keep doing this to myself.”
Billy patted Kevin’s shoulder and said, “That’s no way to talk. Listen, those judges are full of shit, and I believe if you’re not in their inner circle, you won’t win. Your stories are amazing, and you shouldn’t just quit. You’ve already done that, and look where it got you. I say, keep going! You have a gift, and you’re robbing the world of something special if you don’t continue.”
“Ugh…” moaned Kevin. “I guess you’re right. For me, it’s not about winning the money. It’s about getting that recognition from my peers. I just want to belong. Maybe I will try one more time.”
“That’s the spirit,” Billy yelled. “Sometimes, you just gotta shout out those frustrations. Fuck you Sleazy!”
Kevin was slightly startled at the outburst and let a slight chuckle escape his lips.
“Come on, say it with me…” Billy urged.
Together the boys screamed at the top of their lungs. “Fuck you Sleazy!!”
With a newfound determination, Kevin locked himself away in his bedroom and wrote day and night. He wanted to create something wonderous and magical that he would be proud of. And that was the difference. He no longer cared if he won the writing contest. Creating something from his heart was all that mattered, and he was sure his peers would recognize his efforts in time.
Friday afternoon, Kevin finished writing and had Billy read it. His stomach was churning, and his heart raced like a frightened mouse being chased by a cat. He wondered what Billy was thinking.
“What do you think?” Kevin asked.
“It’s a poem.”
“Yeah. Stop foolin’, man. What do you think?!”
“Is this even allowed?”
“Of course, it is,” exclaimed Kevin. “The writing contest specifically states that all short stories AND poems are allowed. There are no minimum word limits.”
Billy nodded and read the poem again.
Oh, cruel world
I see your graceful hands
But I don’t want them
Though my life isn’t perfect
I can still stand unflinching, unblinking
On my own
Forever and a day is all I can give
So, don’t take my words for granted
Because every breath is a precious gift
I stand here defiant in the face of fear, to say
Not yet, not yet
Billy’s eyes welled up with tears. “It’s perfect. I think this is one of your best works.”
“Yes. Now, let’s go get this thing submitted.”
After Billy paid the contest fee, Kevin wrapped his arms around his friend and gave him the biggest hug he had ever given. “Thank you, Billy. I can’t thank you enough for being there and supporting me. I love you very much.”
“I love you too,” Billy uttered. “Enough of this mushy stuff. You should get some sleep; tomorrow is the big day!”
The night was calm and quiet as Billy went to sleep. He kept thinking about Kevin’s poem and how beautiful it was.
He deserves to win. He deserves to win…
Saturday morning came quickly, and Billy was eager to wake Kevin, but he couldn’t shake the feeling that something big had happened. He wanted to prepare himself before the big reveal, so he logged into Sleazy on his phone and checked the winner’s list.
The winning entry was Not yet, by Kevin Marlow.
“YES!” Billy shouted. He couldn’t believe his eyes, so he took another look, and sure enough, they were not fooling him. Billy danced around the room like his insides were ready to explode. He raced down the hallway and banged on Kevin’s door.
“Hey, man. Wake up. It’s time to check the winner’s list!”
There was no answer.
“Wake up, Kevin. Don’t leave my hangin’. We need to check that list!”
Still no answer.
“Shit, man, wake up already!!”
Billy turned the doorknob, but it was locked. He kicked and pounded more. “Wake the fuck up, Kevin! You won, you won!!”
“What’s going on?” A loud booming voice called out. It was Billy’s dad, Lewis.
“I-I don’t know, dad,” Billy stuttered. “I can’t get Kevin up. I wonder if he’s okay?”
Lewis tried turning the doorknob with no luck. “Alright, stand back, son. Kevin, I’m coming in!”
Billy’s dad drew his leg back and kicked in the door to reveal a horrifying scene. Somehow through the night, Kevin had tied his bedsheets to the ceiling fan and hung himself. His body was twirling around, and his flesh was forever stained purple. Billy fell to his knees and screamed…
Kevin’s funeral was a day of sadness for everyone who came to it. Beautiful flowers were placed all along the cemetery, and more than half the town came to pay their respects. Kevin would have been surprised to see how much he was loved.
Billy was shocked that Kevin’s dad didn’t have the balls to show up for his own son’s burial. Maybe it was for the best because Billy had a small pocket knife hidden in his back pocket that was hungry for blood. The way that man treated Kevin was barbaric, and he deserved a torturous death for what he did.
After everyone left and Kevin was laid to rest, Billy knelt by his friend’s grave and placed his hand on the fresh soil. “I’m sorry, Kevin,” he sobbed. “You were a bright soul and left behind a massive body of work that should be praised. I promise you that I will not rest until I publish every last story and poem you have ever written.”
He paused to wipe away his tears. “Your story isn’t over yet. Not yet… Not yet.”