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by Valerie Brook

High schooler Pendelton Gonzales Johnman jumps out his bedroom to escape his abusive home life, made worse by wintertime football and his abusive father’s losing team, to discover a man on the railroad tracks. Penn makes a decision that will forever change his future.

Copyright © 2019 by Valerie Brook. All rights reserved.

Published by Kickit Press/

Cover and Layout Copyright © 2019 by Kickit Press

Cover Art: revac films&photo/

This is a work of fiction. Name, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual events or locals or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction, in whole or in part in any form.



PENDELTON GONZALES JOHNMAN lay awake under the prickly blankets, in the wintery dark, while the wet wind charged across the small coastal town. It gusted frantically against the thin walls of the trailer park homes with the wide and steroidal shoulders of a high school football linebacker.

A linebacker like a car accident.

Like a prison sentence.

Penn’s feet were solid cold and little shivers crawled up his ankles like the tiny bites of ice snakes. 

Pizza crumbs pinched under his muscled, naked back on the bare mattress; the idea of being the inventor of college-marketed, pepperoni-scented laundry soap crossing his mind.

Without the realistic crumbs, because—duh, uncomfortable.

And he didn’t even grin at this stupid idea because there was no laugh left in him. 

A line of bright, bare-bulb hallway light shone underneath his thin bedroom door, where mom and dad walked back and forth along the worn linoleum floor a few more times, pushing things toward midnight, getting those normal things done before bed. 

It was the aftermath.

The aftermath was always very hush-hush.

Penn followed their leg shadows with his eyes, whenever they walked by, as if they might be freaky paranormal stick people walking on stick legs with cotton socks.

They were taking forever.

To wind down.

And so was Penn.

His feet just couldn’t get warm, even though his heart was still pumping hot like an Olympian. Kinda shaking in his chest a little, too. Fluttery like a pretty stupid piece of tissue paper.

Creamy moonlight flowed in through his double-hung window because he hadn’t pulled the hanging curtains. Never did.

Then you’d feel blocked in. Cornered in. 

Without a jump—

Those pale pools of moonlight spilled in from outer space and puddled there, in the middle of his room, across the ripped up area of the carpet where that one-time puppy ate it. 

Penn’s Orion SkyQuest telescope stood silhouette, jacked up on the tripod legs, looking forlorn, like hello? Do you even remember I’m here?

Like, how the fuck can you forget to play with me, you creep? I’m your dream machine. I’m your space-trip believer.

But it was pro football season.

So that’s how. 

(And also because Penn had switched to writing poetry. Kept sheets of folded notebook paper in his back pocket, along with a small, ground-down pencil, just the right size.)

And Penn was really tripping out now, because he started thinking, what if the moonlight was really an alien probe, that could move on its own, and roam the floor and walls until it found him in bed, cowering like a sixteen-year-old Sophomore linebacker shouldn’t ever cower, and analyze his weaknesses.

And start laughing at him: Hey, you freaked out little kid, gonna wet the bed? Like you used to do before you manned up with muscles?

Penn’s eyes were sour dry. Eyes dried up like hardened pizza dough. Maybe he was forgetting to blink.

He raised his hands to his face and, yeah—hands were ice cold just like his feet. And also; shaking. He was in his own personal earthquake and it annoyed him.

Fuck Dad. 

Why’d he raise the level? 

There’d never been the pistol before, not gripped in Dad’s fingers, held out in front of his shadow legs like a full-blown nightmare creep. Then, full-on pointed at Mom’s face. Safety off. That cop stance. That cop command.

Dad’s fists locked and loaded? Sure thing; it happened a lot. But never his service gun.

The hallway lights flicked off and went dark like the end of the world. 

Penn thought, time for me to jump. No way I’m saying here, hell no.

He pushed the comforter silently off and it sloughed onto the floor. He was still wearing his blue jeans, so he just slid back on today’s T-shirt and today’s socks, which were folded and hid right under the front of the bed.

His Nike’s were lined up at the baseboard under the window.

In the moonlight, his little bedroom looked stark and tidy as a submarine captain’s quarters. You don’t have much down here, but everything you have matters, and it’s got a place to go that’s been thought out. 

Penn tied his shoes up. Got his Carhartt jacket with the quilt lining out of the closet (he’d stole it, broke-in and tar stained a bit; but warm as an oven) and quietly raised up the wooden frame of the window. Misty air swirled in, carrying the scent of woodsmoke and vanilla. Right under that was the stink of the garbage cans overflowing, right by the carport, covering the truck and Mom’s bicycle.

Penn angled his legs through the wedge and jumped down to earth, sleek as a panther, quiet as guilt. 

Weak moonlight blinked on and off as blurry clouds rode a wind high up above the pine treetops. 

The trailer park was spazzing out in ho-ho-jolly holiday lights, sparkling in all those unicorn rainbow colors, on all of the porches and bushes around the drive, except Penn’s house. 

’Twas that Christmas time of year.

Pretty stupid time of year, but Penn wasn’t going to think too much about being out of school for winter break. Anyway, he was free to fly.

He put his hands in his pockets, jingling the quarters there, and made his way alone, down to the train tracks where he often walked off his steam, a trail of vapor puffed out from his lips into a blue-black sky like he was his own antique steam engine. 

The low manic clouds had cleared out.

Some night’s he took his telescope out here, did his thing. He’d won it in after school astronomy club last year. But when Mr. Flynn moved away, the school shut the club down because no other teacher cared about stars.

The yellow moon hung right there, right where the flat tracks shot into the horizon, hung like an oncoming train’s 200 watt headlight. 

Penn could play chicken with the moon, run deadly toward each other, see who jumped away into the ditch first.

I’m the chicken because I don’t stand up for Mom.

That’s when Penn saw the dead body. 

Arched on its back over the tracks, one arm jacked up, hand spread and catching the moonlight like the fingers had molten silver tips.

Penn sucked in air.


Penn was halfway between turning back, like he hadn’t seen anything, and halfway frozen. A little bit more on the frozen side.

He squinted into the darkness. It was like the dead body had two heads. The wind blew. One head rolled over, turned toward him, feverish white eyes?


Copyright © 2019 by Valerie Brook. All rights reserved. 

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