about the author

Michael Davis’s short fiction has appeared in over thirty-five magazines and journals. He has published two collections of stories, Gravity and Cruel Stars. He lives in Europe where he works as an academic editor and freelance journalist. Visit his Web site at writingexpedition.com.

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Preponderance of the Small   

Michael Davis

I went over to Misty’s house to get the car battery her brother owed me, but he wasn’t there and Misty was drunk. She waved at me from the top step of the porch and I waved back, even though I was only a few feet away. Then she stood and hucked the empty fifth of Jim Beam into the dead cornfield where it shattered against another of its kind. Honey hair, Daisy Dukes, and a black T-shirt. Misty looked good. She didn’t look drunk. Then again, she never did.

“Tony’s being a little bitch today, I’m afraid.”

“You always say that.”

She smiled, shrugged. Then I could see she was drunk the way she swayed when she hooked her thumbs in the belt loops of her Dukes. “Cause it’s always true?”

“He’s your brother. Don’t you give him a pass now and then?”

We looked across the rotting cornstalks to the traffic inching down Route 5 like multicolored beetles glittering in the heat.

“Somebody out to get him?”

“Who isn’t?”

“But he’s around, though, right?”

Still smiling, she waved away what I’d said as if it were a silly balloon that had floated in front of her face. “Don’t sweat it, babe. You’ll get your battery.”

Misty was like that. She’d smile and wink and call you cupcake, then stab you in the back and twist the knife just because she thought it was funny. Her edges glittered like broken crystal.

She went inside and the screen door snapped shut. I followed her into the front room. There was newspaper taped in the windows and the air smelled like cigarettes and candle wax. Several generations of beer cans lined the shelves instead of books. A severely burned spoon and some old needles lay jumbled in the ashtray with the butts. The lime couch to the left of the stairs had a hunting knife embedded halfway in the center cushion. Someone had lived here once and led a normal life.

Misty went up a few stairs and sat on the landing next to a girl who might have been eighteen or maybe a little younger. She had long brown hair and wore a wrinkled sundress that looked too big. I didn’t know her. She was very high.

“Something happen?” I asked. It was a stupid question. Something always happened. Or nothing ever did.

Rob was in the kitchen, frying bacon and cussing at it, trying not to get cigarette ash in the pan. He was naked except for a black leather vest. “Hey Victor.”

“Hey Rob,” I said. But right when I did, he called his bacon a son-of-a-bitch and didn’t hear me. At some point, Rob had decided that instead of trying to grow his hair back, he’d remove all of it. That was around the time he started wearing leather.

The girl I didn’t know nuzzled up against Misty, put her arms around her, and whimpered. Misty rubbed her back.

“Why’s Rob here?”

“He came over last night.” She whispered something to the girl, who started shaking her head and touching the side of Misty’s face. Misty kept rubbing her back.

“What’s she on?”

“You ask a lot of questions for an asshole who’s just here to pick up a car battery.”

“Don’t be like that, girl. I don’t care what you do.”

“Fucking shit!” Rob called from the kitchen. “I fucking burned my dick. Fuck.”

“Oh no! Careful!” Misty called back, laughing.

The girl rubbed her eyes, looked up at me, then hid her face against Misty as if I were the most terrifying thing she’d ever seen.

“There’s too much drug shit going on around here,” I said. “Bad luck.”

Misty rubbed the girl’s back a little more, hugged her close. “Don’t scare Jessica,” she said. “And don’t put a curse on this house. That’s all we need. Tony’s got your thing down in the basement. But I’d be careful.”

“What’s so scary about the basement?”

She leaned in and kissed Jessica on the corner of her mouth, whispered something to her, smoothed her hair back. “It’s dark.”

The electricity had gone out or been shut off or, at some point in the past, something had exploded decisively. The basement stairs vanished into black after four or five steps. I didn’t have a flashlight and someone had hidden all the candles. So I stayed at the top and called Tony’s name.

“Hey bro.” His voice was small, distant.

“Hey Tony. You asleep down there?”

“Asleep? No.”

I could hear Rob cussing back in the kitchen. When he turned the sink on, the house knocked and trembled as if it were about to shake itself apart.

“Then what are you doing?”


“Okay,” I said. I thought of everything I’d seen so far and decided I didn’t want to know why or what. “So you got my battery?”

“Yeah. It’s down here. But don’t come down. Sheila’s loose.” Sheila was a large scorpion they kept in an aquarium and tortured sometimes. Tony wanted to get another one eventually so he could make them fight and charge admission.

“How’d that happen?”

“Aquarium broke.”

“Oh. Well, how about you bring that battery up here.”

I heard him sigh, faint and delicate, a tiny thing far away in the dark.

“I’m sorry. I can’t do it right now, bro. I’m standing on the TV.”

I didn’t blame Sheila for wanting some payback. She’d been tortured by lit cigarettes, darts, old needles, water sprayers, a hot wire hanger.

“You know I had to take the fucking interstate bus to get out here.”

“I know,” he said. “But it’s out of my control.”

“You just gonna stand on the TV forever?”

Tony didn’t answer. So I went back to the front room, where the situation with the girl had gotten totally out of hand.

Rob was at the foot of the stairs, half erect. Misty was up on the landing with the hunting knife that had been stuck in the couch. She pointed it straight down at his penis as if the knife were a magic wand that could shoot fireballs. Jessica was a little farther up, hair in her face, peering down at Rob over the railing.

“For shit’s sake,” Rob said, “it’s my goddamn turn. Don’t be a hog, Misty. Why are you such a hog? I got burned. I’m hurt. Where’s your compassion?”

“You know how sharp this is? It’ll cut your cock straight off.”

Rob glanced at me. “Victor, tell this greedy bitch I waited my turn like a gentleman all last night. I didn’t have to.”

A long thin burn mark ran down his abdomen to the base of his penis. I pointed at the burn. “Bacon grease?”

“Yeah.” He grinned and shook his head like it was the funniest thing. Then he tried to step onto the stairs but Misty shrieked.

“Get back! Victor, tell this old bald pedophile rapist he stinks like a pig and I’ll stick him like one.”

“You’re the one that had her all to yourself.”

“That’s different. We’re girls.”

We heard a door. Jessica had run the rest of the way upstairs and locked herself in one of the bedrooms.

“Now we got a problem.” Rob shook his head, went over and sat on the lime couch.

Misty ran up and started trying doors.

I sat down next to Rob. “Sheila’s out.”


“The scorpion.”

He frowned, knocked a cigarette out of the soft pack on the table. “Them old things can’t kill you.”

“Tony thinks so. He’s down there in the dark, standing on a television.”

“Maybe that’s where he belongs. Stupid fuck.”

What else was there to say? We sat in silence for a while, listening to Rob smoke, to Misty say, “Come on, baby. Just open the door, okay?”

“Wait till the girl realizes there’s a working phone up there. Cops’ll be out here faster than god. They’re already watching the house.” Rob shook his head as if a police raid were an unavoidable fate we’d all now have to face.

“Guess you’ll have to put some pants on at that point, huh?”

He blew smoke out the corner of his mouth. “Don’t be uptight, Victor. It’s bad for your spleen.”

Rob, Misty, and Tony weren’t horrible. They weren’t mean enough to be evil, but they weren’t smart enough to be better. The world might not have known that, but I did. Still, I thought of all the nights I’d spent with them and with those like them. I thought of the moon and the stars and of the future and the past. I knew these people would never understand a goddamn thing and neither would I.

“What’s the story with the girl, anyway?”

“You really want to know?”

I considered it. Then I said, “I guess maybe I don’t.”

“Look at this.” He pointed to the burn mark that had already gone from crimson to black. “Ridiculous, right?”

I nodded. It was.

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