an excerpt

Chapter One

Sunday evening - orange groves

With a care born of fear and a caution mixed with suppressed excitement, I parted the branches of the encircling tree. A southern California winter night, cool, but not brutally cold. If it had been brutally cold then the cloyingly sweet fruit around me would be dead and the growers poorer by billions. At least that's what the exaggerators on the news always said.

Sunday night. Not yet ten o'clock but late to be out for a school night. But Mom's not home. I'll have extra caffeine in the morning. It's not as if there's a lot really great to stay awake for at school.

I gotta say, nothing about my goddamn life is normal.

Well, okay, that's not exactly true. I go to high school. I eat food. I take showers. I use the bathroom. I wear clothes except when I go to bed.

Apart from that, my world is pretty wide open.

And I'm telling this story because maybe someone will listen.

I'm in the orange groves many weekend nights, most much warmer than this, and mostly it's quiet, and dark, and empty of all save orange trees, and an occasional cluster of teenagers. Except me. Listening to them. Envying them, sometimes. Begrudging their crude friendships, rough camaraderie. Observing the trysting grounds of teenagers from hiding.

Out here on school nights, usually it's only me and the moon and the stars and the trees. I prefer the silence.

The dark comforted me, and this hiding spot had always been perfectly safe. Few headlights whooshed past on the main road hundreds of feet away, and the glow from those distant headlights doesn't reach this far. Even fewer turned down the long lane that led to this secluded spot. And this late in the evening people and their cars rarely crept toward me.

The bunch I was watching weren't that far away. Close enough that I could recognize them as kids from my school.

I can hear them. If the words 'dude' and 'bro' got banned from the language, my peers would be unable to communicate even the simple bits of idiocy they do exchange. I'm not saying all teenagers are dumb. I'm saying these teenagers twenty feet from me made dumb look good.

One was the star of the football team. Tall, strong, muscular. Well, you don't get to be star of the football team if you're short and skinny and a nerd like me. The other two were acolytes of his I knew vaguely from school. There's two thousand kids at Cactus Central High School. It's not like I'd memorized everybody's name.

The wind is blowing from them to me. I smell beer, dope, sweat. I hear them bragging about beating up some poor kid. They use common slurs to refer to the kid they pounded the hell out of. I don't recognize the name, but it's definitely not someone from their ethnic group. These guys and a few of their hulking friends picking on one kid.

My school can be rough. I try to be as invisible during the day as I am now. I'm in their ethnic group, but I'm not one of them. I'd get the hell beat out of me too.

I hear shuffling coming toward me. I ease deeper into the darkness provided by the tree branches.

There's all kinds of rumors you hear about a wild variety of dangers out in the orange groves. Mostly it's teenage imagination fueled by teenage anxiety and/or stoked by parental fears, or it was just plain fear in those parents' minds. Silly crap. That a killer lurks among the trees. Be frightened of being hurt, killed, kidnapped. The stuff that really does happen can be more frightening. At least to me.

And then there's the nutty stuff and silly rumors. That the ghosts of variously manhandled kids, usually girls or women, appear at strangely spooky spots on particularly eerie nights. Add a little fog and a screwy teenager's imagination and you get zombies and living dead and vampires. Odd how those ghost sightings occur mostly on foggy nights. I'm not sure how much imagination it takes to see ghosts in the fog.

Another rumor was that kids lurked among the trees willing to provide sexual favors. Wish I could run into one of those. I'd heard that a group had caught a gay guy who had been spying on them, and they'd tied him to the back of a bumper and dragged him until he died. I never saw a report on it in the newspaper though or on the Internet, so I'm not sure it's true. A Google search revealed nothing. A body was never found.

And then there's the real stuff that I've seen. Sort of mundane, I guess, kind of hot. This one time something happened in the middle of the day, of all times. I'm usually not out here then, but that day I was, and there was this guy sitting by himself in his car. He'd had his eyes shut. At first, I'd thought he was sleeping. Then I'd seen the glow of his phone in his left hand and his right arm moving rapidly up and down. I'd inched as close as I could. He was a young guy, a teenager, thin. He'd parked under the shade of a huge tree. All the car windows had been open. From what I saw, he was good looking.

I'd wanted to watch everything, but I'd been afraid to get too close. A few minutes later, I heard him give a soft groan, followed seconds later by a smile of satisfaction on his face. Both of his hands had disappeared and he'd lifted his mid-section, so I guessed he had been pulling up his pants and underwear. Where had he wiped the excess?

When he drove off, I was extra careful to make sure no one was watching, hid in the deepest shadows, and for the first time out in the orange groves, I took out my own dick. I don't know how I had the nerve. It took me only a few seconds to let go a load. I don't do that often, but it's great when I do, being outside and in daylight. I let my cum fall onto the ground under a tree. Whacking off outside, and getting totally turned on by it, is that weird?

Tonight, the shuffling comes nearer. I barely dare to breathe.

Every kid in town knew about the one definite, for sure murder in the past month, a teenager found floating in the irrigation canal. The same canal I had to jump over to get from the fields around the railroad tracks behind my house to these vast rows of citrus trees and random, scattered clumps of other vegetation. No one had recognized the dead kid. He wasn't local. The corpse hadn't been torn up like it would have been if it had been dragged behind a car. The body had never been claimed. No local kid was missing. He might have floated for miles. Even with all their technology and Internet hook-ups, the cops hadn't found out who he was. Each rumor was crazier than the last. That the killer had stuffed the dead kid's private parts in his mouth. That they'd cut off his hands.

None of that was true.

I'd watched him float by about an hour before he was found by a grower. I'd been frightened and might have reported it, but if I used my cell phone or called from home, they'd know who I was. I knew he was dead. The body reeked and was bloated, gross, disgusting, and definitely not breathing.

I wasn't about to begin answering a lot of questions about what I was doing out here and then maybe they'd begin to suspect me or worse, arrest me and try to say I did it. My imagination can run away with me, too. I was scared that night but drawn to the body at the same time. I remember the eyes. Wide open. Cold, dark, and dead.

If my parents found out I come out here, there'd be hell to pay about that.

No. There was no one lurking in the trees behind me tonight. No one I'd heard or seen, and I'm special careful. The only live bodies besides me were the ones I was spying on.

Now, I can hear the quarterback telling his buddies how much he loved kicking the kid when he was down. In the pauses of his discourse, I can hear the breathing of the one approaching me. I can see his outline now. He's within five feet of me.

I can see a glow of light. He's got his stupid phone out. He's away from his buddies for ten seconds, and he's taking a piss, and he's got his phone out. Since he's looking at the glowing screen, the light doesn't shine toward me, which is good.

The soft rustle of cloth, the rasp of a zipper, liquid unleashed. He's pissing on the ground. The phone's light isn't pointed toward his dick, which might be interesting to see.

And he doesn't see me. They never do.

He finishes. Zips up. Gives a five second belch. I see him grab his crotch and adjust himself. He stumbles back to the others. It's hard to walk on the usually crumbly ground in the orange groves. No water in the dirt grooves for irrigation tonight.

I hear the pop of beer can tops. The flare of matches for more cigarettes and dope. They're getting louder as they get drunker and/or higher. Now, they're talking about the dead boy in the canal.

A lot of the time I can tell which kids are sneaking out for the first time, and those who are hardcore partiers. It's in the amount of noise. The first timers are all whispering and shushing each other, more giggling, too. The teenage-old-timers, the ones who've been out before, they're loud in a furtive way. Their attitude seems to be, we're tough and macho but keep one eye out--nobody can stop us from partying, but the cops could come.

Once in a while there are couples who use this for lover's lane, but this is mostly a party place with a little making out now and then. The real lover's lane is farther back in the hills, and I usually don't walk that far. Besides, I think those kids deserve some privacy. Sometimes, I see condoms on the ground. Once I found a broken cell phone, couple times underwear, guy's and girl's. All kinds of intimate things, but mundane items, too: cigarette lighters, a bong, water bottles.

I know of three different kids in several different groups that I'd listened to who said they knew who killed the kid in the canal. I think they're lying or exaggerating.

Mostly they talk about sex and computer games. I'm entranced by the sex bragging.

But now this group begins discussing leaving. Another one of them comes toward me. It's the quarterback. I can tell because he's tallest with the broadest shoulders. His footsteps stop. This time I inch closer. Movement of cloth. No zipper. He's wearing sweat pants. Sound of piss hitting ground.

You want a saint, look somewhere else. You want a straight kid, you're out of luck. You want a teenager who doesn't think about sex constantly, find a dead one.

Whenever I see the quarterback, Darrel Granger, in the hall at school, I never look him in the eyes. We have one class together. I'm sure he doesn't know I exist. I barely ever glance at him. Just enough that I've memorized the folds in the front of his jeans. But only long enough to not get caught staring. I guess that's longer than 'glancing barely.' I'd watch in class to see if I could observe telltale bulges as he sat and spread his legs. Sometimes I could.

I'd give a great deal to see Darrel Granger naked. Or be in his arms. To feel him hold me. Right now, I'd just like to get a lingering peek at his dick.

I slip another few inches in his direction. A side step. Dirt slides. I can almost see an extra light pinkness next to his hand.

"Who's there?" he calls.

Stay in the shadows? Run?

The other guys come toward us. They're maybe ten, fifteen feet to my right.

I crash out of the tree and take off. For the first second or two, leaves, branches, and fruit tear at and bump against my skin.

"Hey," somebody yells.

"Get him!"

I can't possibly outrun them. They're bigger. But I know the trees and the groves. I dodge and dart, my shoes slipping. I trip. Get up. It's frantic. They're too close. I can't get to the secret paths I know so well. But it's too dark for them to follow my footprints. I scurry forward with care and caution. I hear them stumble and curse. They take a wrong turn, and I draw away. I begin circling and eventually come around to almost behind them. I stop. They keep going forward.

I thrust my body deep under the leaves and branches of a tree. I lean my head against the trunk. I pull in deep breaths. I quieten. I listen. They're coming back. I turn to start another sprint.

Car headlights come down the dirt road. I can't run. They'll see me in the lights.


The face of the boy floating in the canal comes to me. I don't want to be the next statistic.

I try to melt myself into the tree. I hear their footsteps. The lights of the new car turn off. Car doors slam. I shut my eyes.

I hear Darrel and his friends pass on either side of the tree I'm hiding in, but their attention is on the newcomers.

After they pass, I pull in air for what feels like the first time in hours.

The two groups meet under the old pepper trees that line the road. I hear acrimony.

I creep to the main path through the trees. When I get there, I run full tilt. I am pretty fast on solid ground. I leap the irrigation canal. Home is a short run to the embankment, up it fifteen or twenty feet, over the railroad tracks, down the other side, across the field, over our backyard fence, and into the house. It's a mile and a half across the field. When I'm halfway, I look back. No one is behind me. I slow down. Check myself for injuries but only find a few minor scrapes from twisting and crashing through the tree when I first started running.