Part 1 Carlos and Roger Ten-year-old Carlos Estaban was totally pissed off. Why couldn’t he grow like the other kids in his fifth grade class? All he could see in the medicine cabinet mirror was the top of his head, his straight black hair, not even mussed from a night of deep, heavy sleep. Holding the edge of the sink he hooked the step stool with the toes of his foot, pulled it over, and stepped up. His chocolate brown eyes looked back at him. He tried to look stern, like his Papa at the dinner table, but it was no good. A smile pushed its way through his lips, and there was the big empty space where his permanent front tooth should be growing – Growing, growing, nothing about him was growing, and that really pissed him off. In the medicine cabinet, he got his toothbrush and toothpaste. Closing the mirrored door he saw a hand coming over his right shoulder. Before he could move the hand smothered his mouth. He tried to scream but another hand appeared over his left shoulder, and gripped his throat, cutting off his breath. The toothpaste and brush slipped from his fingers making a clicking, thumping sound as they dropped in the sink. Carlos’s eyes grew large, eyebrows disappearing into the black bangs hanging over his forehead. He was about to pee his pajamas when a familiar face, pale and narrow, rose up behind him. He recognized Roger Morgan, the Patron’s only son, and his very secret playmate. Roger’s face, topped by a mop of thick oily hair, even darker than that of Carlos, was devoid of expression. His big black eyes held no mischief or amusement. Roger looked, if he looked like anything at all, to be very sad. Roger always looked sad --- No --- Sad didn’t really describe his appearance. He looked blank, like the zombies in the movies. Blankly sad, and that almost made Carlos want to laugh. But it was hard to laugh when Roger was still pinching his throat and he was about to pee his pajamas. Roger leaned forward bringing his thin lips close to Carlos’s ear. Moving his hand from Carlos’s throat to his shoulder Roger whispered. “Where you surprised? Is that how surprised is supposed to look? Don’t talk when I move my hand, Ok? Whisper Ok?” Carlos moved his head up and down. Roger nodded, taking his hand from Carlos’s mouth. “Whatta’ ya’ doin’, Roger? You scare the crap outta’ me,…woooo.” Roger whispered in his ear. “You were scared? You weren’t surprised? Didn’t I surprise you?” Carlos looked at their reflection, letting one hand drop down to the wet spot in the crotch of his pajamas. Jeez, he thought, if Roger sees that he’ll think I’m a big baby. He pushed himself closer to the sink. “No Roger…I…I mean, yeah, you surprised me. I wasn’t scared…Hey…I heard you comin’ through the window. Yeah, I just didn’t think you get behind me so fast. You really surprise me.” “That’s good, that’s really good.” Roger showed his teeth, his best effort at imitating a smile. Keeping his lips close to Carlos’s ear he continued to whisper. “I needed to see real surprise. I needed to see what it really looks like. I wanna’ see…” Roger went suddenly quiet at the sound of heavy footfalls in the hall. He absently began to pat Carlos’s shoulders as both boys listened to the sharp rap of work-hardened knuckles on the bedroom door. “Carlos!! Vamonos mochacho…” Carlos, his eyes twinkling, put a finger to his lips. “Si Padre’, I’m coming…I’m coming.” There were two more raps on the door, then the footsteps continued on their way. Carlos jumped off the stool, shoving it to the side. He paused, staring at his friend for a moment. Roger was a head taller and he was only two years older. It just wasn’t right; why did God always make gringos bigger, Carlos thought…It really pissed him off. “I’ve got to hurry, Roger. Papa waits for me. For breakfast, you know? I’ll see you after school, Ok?” Roger shook his head, and leaning down, whispered in Carlos’s ear. “No. Carlos listen. I’ve got something you’ve got to see, before school Ok?” Carlos looked doubtful, beginning to shake his head. “Carlos, you’ve got to see this, you can take it to school, get extra credit, surprise Mamma and Poppa.” Carlos unlocked the door leading to his Mother and Father’s bedroom, then crossed to his own room. Pulling off his pajama top he watched Roger move to the open window. “Ok Carlos? You’ve got to keep it a secret until after school, Ok? Carlos? Ok? Meet me at the shed? And don’t tell anyone, Ok?” Carlos pulled a smudged tee shirt from a tangle of clothes at the foot of his bed. As his head popped through the neck opening he was smiling, and he whispered through a giggle. “Ok, I won’t tell nobody. Is it really neat? Will it be mine? After school, you know? Do I get to keep it?” Roger slipped through the window, his thin body moving so effortlessly he seemed to be pouring himself through the opening. Outside he placed his palms flat on the windowsill and lowered his chin to the back of his hands. He stared at Carlos for a long moment then nodded his head. “It’ll be all yours, Carlos. Now hurry Ok? I’ll be at the shed.” Carlos smiled, waved, and turned his back pulling down his pajama bottoms. Leaving, Roger couldn’t help but notice two brown smears spotting the back of Carlos’s threadbare jockey shorts. Dressing quickly, Carlos was so excited he almost forgot to wash his face and hands, and brush his teeth. Mamma would check him before he sat with Poppa at the kitchen table. He rinsed his mouth, spit, and wondered what wonderful thing Roger would show him. Roger always had something wonderful; the Patron was very good to his only son. Sometimes, if he did exactly as Roger told him, Roger would let him have one of his wonderful things. Sometimes Roger made him do really strange things. Things he felt funny doing. Things that sometimes felt like they might be bad, but Roger said they weren’t bad. Roger always said they were ex-per-minting? --- Spear-minting? --- Somethin’-minting. --- It didn’t matter. When he did what Roger wanted, he always got a prize. But he could only play with his prizes late at night when Momma and Poppa were sound asleep. If Momma or Poppa saw his prizes they would know about Roger and him, playing together, and that would be the end. Poppa always said: “You never mix your blood with that of the Patron, Carlos. The Patron gives you the roof over your head, the food on your table, a pillow for your weary head. You must give the Patron his day of work, your respect and most important your loyalty. You must GIVE your blood, Carlos, never MIX. Comprende’, Chico?” Carlos was sure Poppa was mistaken. Roger was his good friend, a little scary sometimes, but his friend ---Yes. Carlos bounded through his bedroom door, barely able to keep from running into the kitchen. He was so excited. Part 2 The Shed The shed was very old. Even his Father, James Bernard Morgan, couldn’t accurately put a date to its construction. No matter the season of the year, or the time of day, their countless strolls, as James Morgan liked to describe them, always ended at the shed. He never tired of examining the small out-building, and he always found something new, some small nuance to point out to his son. The old building was painstakingly put together; its components fashioned with crosscut saw, and meticulously finished with chisel and plane. Roger often wondered if the builder might’ve been his Father’s boyhood idol --- James Morgan’s preoccupation with the structure seemed almost reverential. James Morgan refused to allow the shed to be used for storage of tools or materials. This edict made it simple for Roger to create a private refuge, and his Father’s shrine not only became a sanctuary, but his “laboratory” as well. The heavy plank door opened easily under Roger’s hand. He maintained the door’s hinges and latch mechanisms religiously. Inside he’d installed a sliding bolt, privacy insurance, when his “laboratory” was in use. Leaving the door ajar he crossed immediately to the shed’s only window and leaning on the sill he looked eastward, waiting for the first sight of Carlos Estaban. In the distance, the massive roof of his Father’s house was visible above an eight-foot hedge. This living partition separated the maintenance sheds from the mansion, with its formal gardens, pristine lawns, and recreational areas. The hedge ran in roughly a northeast – southwest direction, spanning the width of the Morgan property, some six and a half acres. A hundred and fifty yards farther west the Morgan property line was marked by a row of eucalyptus trees planted, some claimed, by General Fremont himself in the days of the Californios. Beyond the stand of eucalyptus, thick and thorny vines, wild berry bushes, and matted vegetation fought for space with several varieties of tree. The huge area, explored for many an hour by Roger and Carlos was the site of an elaborate fort built by the boys over one summer. This forbidding wild land, known in the region as the Low Breaks, served as nature’s cushion between the Morgan domain, California State Highway One, and the rugged, rocky cliff standing guard over the pounding surf of the Pacific Ocean. Sooner than Roger expected Carlos darted through one of the carefully trimmed arches in the hedge. He carried a brown paper bag in one hand, a small book satchel in the other. He’d been skipping as he cleared the opening but seeing the shed, fifty yards away, he broke into a trot, eager anticipation plainly visible on his face. Roger crossed the small room and stood beside the door. He retrieved a hard rubber mallet from a fire block next to the doorframe, a mallet he’d placed there over a week ago when the planning of this experiment began to take shape. He stood quietly, thinking of the anatomy book he’d studied, the points on the human cranium where unconsciousness would occur if a firm blow were struck. A spot just behind the ear in the mastoid area seemed perfect for his purpose, and not likely to cause a coma or death. The door began to open and Roger remained behind it, moving a step or two forward. Carlos entered the shed, looking to his right, as he whispered Roger’s name. Another quickstep forward and Roger swung the mallet in a short, vicious arc --- Carlos collapsed to the floor like a marionette whose strings had suddenly snapped. Carlos came back from a very dark place, and his head hurt. There was a throbbing, a pounding ache, behind his left ear. He started to cry but his mouth wouldn’t work, it was stuck, it wouldn’t open. His watery eyes made everything blurry. He decided to rub them dry but his hands, his arms, they wouldn’t move. Now he was going to cry for sure, but his nose was getting all pluggy --- He couldn’t breathe. Carlos struggled, trying to break free, and that’s when he discovered he couldn’t move his legs. His screams sounded like muffled moans. Roger covered Carlos’s nose with his handkerchief and pulled one end of the tape away from his lips. Roger spoke almost tenderly. “Blow. Come on, Carlos, blow. One more time, come on.” Carlos’s eyes cleared a little as he blinked, and there was his friend hovering above him. Roger wiped his nose but before Carlos could tell him there was still some snot on his lip, Roger pushed the tape back over his mouth. Carlos’s head and eyes began to clear, and he tried to understand what Roger was doing. He didn’t think this was a new game. This couldn’t be what Roger wanted to show him; he couldn’t take this to school. Roger stood and moved out of his line of sight. Carlos was able to twist his head and shoulder a little, and he saw Roger facing the wall. His friend was looking at something, his right arm moving slowly back and forth. Carlos could hear a faint scraping, a scratchy sound. The sounds stopped and Roger turned, his hands behind his back. Slowly he came back to stand over Carlos. Crouching down Roger stared, the look on his face exactly the same, Carlos remembered, as the look he’d seen in his mirror that morning. Roger took one hand from behind his back and reached out, his fingers gently wiping the sweat formed on Carlos’s forehead. He brought his hand to his nose and sniffed. “Are you afraid?” Carlos didn’t know how to answer and besides it was a funny question. Besides, how could he answer with tape covering his mouth? Besides, he just didn’t understand. Carlos tried to let Roger know he was confused. He shrugged, as best he could shrug. He scrunched up his eyes like he did with Mamma when he wanted to play dumb. Roger stood, wiped his hand on his pant leg and looked toward the window. The experiment was not progressing as planned. What he’d suspected in the Estaban bathroom that morning, he now knew to be true. Roger’s attempt to surprise Carlos had scared him --- Not really frightened him, just scared him. And Carlos, the little ****! Carlos lied to him, telling him he was surprised. Now he still wasn’t sure what surprise really looked like. Roger felt the tingling heat begin in his neck and spread slowly to his head. The heat, familiar and not unpleasant, signaled anger, the only “feeling” he could ever recall having. He’d learned long ago that he was different. When given a wonderful gift his parents always asked, “Aren’t you happy?” When his grandmother died, the family knew he must be sad. And the time he destroyed his playroom, they labeled him an angry boy. These words: angry, happy, joy, sadness; he’d finally looked them up in the dictionary. The words described emotional response, a supposedly important trait of the human personality. Nature had chosen to withhold these “emotional gimmicks” from him, and he felt cheated --- left out. Anger was the exception. Anger, for Roger, was defined by the tingly heat of hostility he could experience. This burning sensation almost always made him act in an irrational manner. Its heat would cause him to rip, to smash, to pound, and destroy whatever happened to be within reach. It took time, but he learned to control this behavior. When the hot feeling overtook him, he was forced to learn. His tantrums caused him to be subjected to the scrutiny of one doctor after another. The doctors were dumber than Carlos, as far as he was concerned --- And the pills they forced him to take; the pills that made him dreamy. The heat ---The anger --- The boiling madness when he lost control. He learned to focus its power. He promised himself he would study, he would learn, he would, if nothing else, mimic --- He would take back what nature had stolen from him --- He would become “normal”. Roger turned, his thin pale face spotted bright red on his cheeks, nose, forehead and ears. His oily black hair lay scattered in wild clumps and ringlets. His ebony eyes, so cold, so deadly blank; he looked like a deranged caricature of the little man with top hat and mallet, the logo of a local pest control company. With each step forward Roger chanted in a whispery, raspy voice. “Liar, liar, pants on fire…Liar, liar, pants on fire.” Carlos didn’t know who was coming toward him, across the packed dirt floor of the shed, but he knew it couldn’t be his friend. This one could not be Roger. Carlos whimpered. Again, he tried to scream, but he only choked. He scrunched his eyes, as hot tears streamed down the sides of his face. Roger stood above him almost straddling his head. He lowered himself slowly, bringing his right hand forward just out of Carlos’s view. “You’re afraid now, aren’t you, Carlos?” Carlos jerked his head up and down, while making little mewling sounds behind the duct tape covering his mouth. Roger brought his right hand up showing Carlos he was holding a gardeners cultivator. It was an old tool, the thick wooden handle cracked; it’s shank rusty and pitted. But the three long tines, round and slightly curved at their tips, were shiny clean, and they looked very, very, sharp. Roger’s thin lips were pulled tight across his teeth. As he began to speak Carlos thought of a skeleton head he’d seen last Halloween --- He wet his pants. “You would’ve learned eventually, Carlos. I don’t really know, but I’d guess, --- ah, --- probably in Junior High School --- Biology class probably. Anyway, we all have two arteries in our neck. There’s an internal and external carotid artery on both the right and left sides. They’re very important to us, Carlos, but the internal one, --- ah, --- that’s the one that carries all the blood to and from our brains. Isn’t that interesting, Carlos?. You know what happens if that internal carotid artery gets a hole punched in it? --- Or it’s torn or cut? Roger wrinkled his nose and leaned back on his heels. “Carlos,…oooh, Carlos. What did you do?…Pehewwww.” Roger bent close to Carlos’s face, his dead eyes swallowing the boy’s terror --- feasting on it. “I’m going to show you what happens, Carlos. I’ve read all about the subject. I can tell you exactly what happens when the carotid artery is opened. Ah, --- you just go out --- Like a light. It’s like turning off a light switch, Carlos --- Boop.” Roger pushed the tines of the cultivator deep into the right side of Carlos’ neck, jerking the tool up before pulling it out. The first glut of blood almost reached the roof of the shed. Startled, Roger jerked back, falling hard on his bony butt. “Ouch! ****.” The following spurts weren’t quite so dramatic, but Roger scrabbled backward nonetheless --- Amazed. A small boy producing so much blood so vigorously left Roger impressed with the strength of a young and healthy heart. Standing, he brushed the back of his pants and decided he was satisfied with the experiment after all. He’d seen the fear, and at the end, he was sure he’d seen the higher form of fear --- terror. Yes, he thought, he might’ve even seen a little surprise mixed with some confusion --- Another bonus. He looked around trying to decide how much he should clean up. Now before school --- He was never late. Checking his watch he decided on the blood. The body would have to wait until after dark in any case. A worker snooping around the shed was out of the question, but he checked the sliding bolt just to make sure it was in the locked position. He would slip out the window as he’d done several times before. He dropped the cultivator on the body’s stomach then checked his clothes for any sign of gore. He looked fine, he thought, but he’d change clothes, just in case, and see these laundered --- “Better safe than sorry,” was one of his Father’s favorite euphemisms. As he worked he wondered if this method of study was becoming too cumbersome. Clean up and disposal were taking more and more precious time. He’d talk to his Father, convert that extra space in the basement to a home theater. There he would watch films. The entire range of human emotion was displayed on film. He would watch as many times as he wanted and not be bothered with these --- messes. He would watch, and the photographic memory he was not yet aware he possessed, would store everything away. He would watch, he would study, he would memorize --- He would train himself to become “normal”. Moving quickly, with a practiced care, he mixed and tamped the sticky strings of blood into the dirt floor of the shed. As he worked his brain restlessly processed the day’s events, and with a maturity far exceeding his age level, he realized this form of experimentation would not go on. The analytical side of his very unique nature was already preparing a safer path to follow. A surer path to the normalcy he was determined to have. He pushed a stream of air through his teeth making a quiet, tuneless, whistling sound.