Issue 0 cover


by John Mantooth

Issue 0 :: Spring 2007 (stories)

I learned about defiance, real defiance, on a school bus. I was seventeen. That was the year I started drinking, the year my mother took my car keys away from me after I came home drunk. She waited until I was sleeping one off and hid them, knowing I wasn’t about to give them to her, nor was I going to stop drinking. Not then. Becoming sober was still decades of misery away.

So I rode the cheese wagon, mornings and afternoons, sitting in the back with a couple of delinquent ninth-graders who looked up to me because I told them the sordid details of my life, embellishing most of them to the point of absurdity. But the more I embellished, the more the two boys, Davy and Ty-Ty, wanted to hear.

I told them that I was on the bus because some drug dealer associated with the Mafia took my car when I told him to fuck off. I told them that I had a sweet deal lined up with a guy who was going to sell me a brand new Dodge Viper. I’d be getting it in a couple of weeks. I told them about my brother Steve, who worked in the pits at Talladega, and how he always got me pussy when I went to visit him. I told them that nobody could tell me what to do, and I meant nobody.

“What about Champ?” Davy asked. I looked up at our bus driver. We called him Champ, and I always assumed it was because he used to box, but perhaps I was wrong. Either way, his big forearms, thick black mustache, and scarred face always gave the impression that he was not one to be crossed. I’d only seen one kid try it since I’d been riding, and he was dealt with swiftly and soundly. Champ threw the bus into park, slung off his seatbelt, and stormed back to the boy’s seat. The boy cringed into his seat, petrified.

“Sure, he can tell me all he wants, but I’m not going to do it.” And then, for effect, I added, “I’m not scared of that old man,” while in truth I was terrified by the prospect of crossing him.

Champ had one rule on the bus: stay in your seat. So it didn’t surprise me when Davy called me on my big mouth.

“Stand up then,” he said. “Stand up and we’ll see how tough you are.”


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"Chicken" is roughly 4600 words.

John Mantooth writes short stories that fall between the cracks in the genre sidewalk. His most recent publications appear in the Shadow Regions anthology, Electric Velocipede, and Shimmer.