Len Kuntz lives on a lake in rural Washington State. His writing appears widely in print and online at places like Hulltown 360, Necessary Fiction, Clutching at Straws and also at lenkuntz.blogspot.com.
From a distance the rocks looked blood-splattered. I pictured an Old Testament stoning, an ambush or bludgeoning of some sort.
Justin wanted to race there.
“What’s the rush?”
“Do you always have to be a wimp?”
My brother threw a stick at me and ran.
My chest felt wrapped in barbwire. A ripping sensation tore at my side, but I kept up a steady pace.
We ran through tall weed grass gone to straw. We followed the outline of where the riverbed had once wended across this valley. Mud flaps the size of waffles clattered or broke into smaller shingles as we sprinted over them.
Along the way, a few random rocks lay like Easter Eggs. We were running so fast I only caught random words—Rape—Grandma—Destroyed—Beautiful.
We arrived at the gulley gasping hard. My heart was already speeding but when I saw them all piled up in a heap, I clutched myself so as not to collapse.
There were thousands of rocks with secrets written on them, each one someone’s shame or clandestine wish, written in felt pens, mostly red-inked.
“This feels wrong, like reading someone’s diary.”
Justin picked one up. “It’s not the same,” he said. “No one’s attached their name. We don’t know these people.”
My mother is the prettiest mom I know. It makes me jealous. Sometimes I wish she was dead.
“They’re anonymous, but so personal.”
When I went to borrow a shirt from his room, I found gay porn stashed in my brother’s dresser.
My Dad keeps vodka in his bathroom. He says he has a bladder problem to cover up always sneaking off for a drink. It makes me angry and ashamed.
“You sound like some mamby pamby.”
I cut myself whenever I’m sad. I’m sad all the time. I’ve made up my own alphabet and I etch it into my skin.
I felt a pull against my heart. I bit my lip until blood came so I wouldn’t cry.
“They won’t last long anyway.”
“Why?” I asked.
“In summer, the snow melt will come off the mountains and fill the stream and everyone’s secret will either get washed away or washed clean.”
I looked up at Stokley Hill, cone-shaped with a fat base breaking off into the valley where we were. The top was a hundred feet away, flattened. Sun glare lashed at my corneas, even as I shielded my eyes with a hand.
“They throw them from there?”
I catch bugs alive and put them in my mouth just to feel them struggling to escape.
I caught sight of someone arriving at the plateau. She was thin, wearing a silver parka. She started to wind up, but then saw us. “Hey!” she yelled. “You’re not supposed to be down there!”
“Free country!” Justin screamed.
The girl paused, then disappeared over the side.
“That wasn’t cool,” I said.
“Since when do you know about cool? Don’t they call you Barbie at school?”
They did. That, and other slurs.
“She was going to throw one, a secret.”
“It’s a stupid thing to do anyway. Look at all this whiny crap.” He picked one up. I killed my neighbor’s cat and now I have nightmares. “Bunch of babies. If life’s so hard, why not go kill yourself.”
He spat. A white trail of foam dangled off his chin, swinging in the breeze. “Check it out,” he said, pointing to the spittle.
I imagined myself on the top of Stokley Hill, marker in hand, spelling out my shame.
Justin unzipped and peed. The splatter sounded like wrapping paper igniting. When he was done, he looked at me with a wide open grin, wagging his penis and giggling. Justin’s eyes, the ones girls fawned over, had gone gray now, like the dull side of a stone. I wanted to tell him he was ugly, that I hated him more than all those kids at school hated me.
Instead, I picked up a broken-off boulder the size of a pumpkin. I hoisted it over my shoulders. I was on a slope, maybe a foot taller than my brother for once. He thought I was kidding.
I knew I could write my secrets down in diaries or on rocks. I could throw them or burn them, but my brother would still know. This was the one way to be sure, and so I brought the boulder down with everything I had left in me.