The following is a short story from my upcoming psychological thriller anthology, “Hallucinatory Tribulation.” The full book will be published on October 30th, 2019 ©️ All Rights Reserved. I will be posting one full short every Saturday until the book is published. Please comment with your thoughts or share if you enjoy the story. (You can also read this and the other free shorts on Wattpad.)
It is a common occurrence in our society for a child to be named, not by their parents, but a third party who is referred to as a nomer. I’m not sure where we picked up this tradition, but it was quite the usual thing to do. Not everyone did this, mind you; it wasn’t a requirement by any means. Nonetheless, the ceremony was taken very seriously, often even by those who disbelieved the practice.
The idea behind it was that nomers held the ability to sense a person’s aura and an imprint of their life…but only when they were new. Hence why it was done directly after a child was born. These people were unable to pull off this trick once a soul had soaked up enough of the world around them, so even if one was asked to give a name later in life, the result was thought to be worthless. There was something about the fresh essence of the energy being what gave these gifted individuals their sense. Therefore living amongst the world for any time would taint that purity.
I call bullshit.
Personally, I think that this is all some glorified hocus pocus; nothing more than an outdated superstition with literally zero basis in science and rational thought. I mean, I could pick up a baby and have a name pop into my head too. Nonetheless, perhaps the reason I hate it so much is because my parents had a nomer when I was born.
The woman, an old hag whose breath always smelled, had named me. I was called Bully and yes, that word means what you think it means. Sure, my mom could have had a heart and realized it was a horrible thing to name her son, but as I said, the tradition was taken quite seriously. She refused to choose something different. Of course, Dad had agreed with her.
So, there I sat, curled up on the cafeteria floor while several of my fellow students chunked various pieces from their lunch at me, “Stop!”
“Stop, he says,” one of the perpetrators mocked, causing the others to laugh even harder, “You want us to stop, sissy boy?”
“That’s enough,” came a cold, stern voice.
I looked up from my position, wiping my face with the edge of a dirtied sleeve. It was one of the teachers who approached, glaring at the children until they left before turning his heavy gaze upon me, “Get up,” he commanded in the same solemn tone.
I did as I was told, only to be greeted by his firm hand grabbing onto my upper arm as he began pulling me away. Great, I was in trouble again. I didn’t have to utter a single word to know we were heading for the principal’s office. The girl who had made fun of me stuck her tongue out just when we left the room, snickering, knowing she was in the clear for the ordeal. They always took her side. Even my parents suggested that it was my fault for the way others treated me. A respected nomer had named me Bully after all.
“Yes,” the principal sighed, having hardly looked up from his desk when I was escorted inside, “I’ve got it from here; thank you.”
Aware of the drill, I sat my scrawny body in the chair across from the man after the other had departed, silently waiting while the headmaster ruffled through a few more papers before putting his attention on me.
“How many times does today make this week alone?” he arched an annoyed eyebrow.
“How many times?” he repeated.
“Six,” my shoulders slumped in defeat.
“That’s a new record for you, Bully,” he scoffed.
“But I didn’t do anything! They just won’t leave me alone!” I protested.
“Clearly you’re doing something or they wouldn’t be bothering you,” he replied as if he thought he was smart.
“It’s my stupid name,” I muttered, “The only reason people hate me is because of that stupid nomer.”
“Don’t say stupid and don’t disrespect your elders,” the man pointed a finger at me, “And I quite doubt that’s the only reason someone would dislike you. Are you saying you’re perfect?”
“Then there is a reason they pick on you,” the man decided, “I would work on fixing that, if I were you.”
“I try to be nice! I’ve tried helping; I’ve even tried ignoring everyone and sticking to myself!” I yelled, “What else can I do? Why is it okay for them to pick on me at all? You’ve never even caught me doing anything wrong! I’m only ever in here because they’ve started a fight!”
“Caught being the operative word,” the principal sneered, “We haven’t caught you yet because you’re a sly little thing. The other kids have informed me of many misdeeds of yours.”
“Why does their word mean more than mine,” I hung my head, realizing there was no point in arguing any further.
“That’s enough out of you,” the principal sighed again, reaching for the phone, “I’m calling your parents.”
“Go sit in the hall,” he growled, vision narrowed as he gestured toward the door.
Alone in the corridor, I prayed the bell wouldn’t ring before my parents showed. Thankfully, it didn’t. Mom gave me a pitiful look and then went in to speak with the headmaster. I couldn’t hear their voices for the ten minute duration of the conversation: a good sign neither had lost their temper.
Mom produced herself soon after, refusing to even glance my way when she ordered me to follow her out of the building. Whether I’d be met with a lashing at home or not, I was happy to be leaving the school. At least once my parents were through with me, I could spend the rest of the evening locked in my room, pretending that all these assholes in my life didn’t exist.
The only words that were spoken during the ride home were for my mom to ask what she was meant to do with me, and then instructing me to remain scarce until Dad came home, which I gladly did. Outside in the yard, I threw a basketball against the garage door, chucking it with more vigor each time.
Finally hearing a car drive up behind me, I gave the ball another powerful toss in an attempt to relieve some more tension prior to the coming shouting from the man quick-approaching from the vehicle. Unfortunately, my anxiety kept me from properly catching it again, and it flew past where I stood, hitting the grill of the sedan.
“BULLY!” Dad yelled, upset that his precious car might have been hurt, “Watch it! Aren’t you already causing enough trouble?”
I had spun around to watch him inspect the machine, but it wasn’t until that last statement that I started running away, tears streaming down my cheeks. I could vaguely hear him calling after me, telling me to come back. However, I wouldn’t listen. Nobody ever listened to me. I tore down the street, ducking into a neighbor’s yard and cutting through it to make my way to the witch’s house. I knew where she lived; everyone did.
At the end of the lane, four streets and an avenue over, rested a home that appeared typical to the area. Pilgrim style two story built of wood and painted a dark umber. Green vines crept along the side of the residence and up to chimney while the front was lined with flowers of all colors.
It was clean and neat, the yard in perfect order probably only because of her grandsons, but the pleasant exterior didn’t fool me. I knew what lurked within. I knew the old hag was nothing more than a heartless crone. Taking a deep breath, I stomped toward the door and began pounding on it, not bothering to clear my face. She wouldn’t see my tears anyway. It took several minutes to receive an answer.
“Hello?” the woman peeked through the cracked entrance, her pale face the only thing visible from where she’d come, “Who’s there?”
I hesitated to reply, almost deciding to just ditch. Or perhaps I could toy around with the blind bat and aggravate her. “Bully,” I finally said.
“Ah. I see,” her tone grew somber, “Would you like to come inside, my boy? I believe I still have some sweets in the kitchen.”
My heart fluttered, mind reminding me what she really was and that a little treat wasn’t going to make up for what she’d done to me. Regardless, I accepted the offer and strolled into the black hallway. The nomer stepped a few fast paces forward to flip on the lights so that her guest could see. The inside of the home was a bit dusty, but remained uncluttered and generally in decent order. I followed the old woman to the kitchen, where she began feeling for the cabinet handles, presumably in search of the promised goods.
“What brings you by today, Bully?” she wondered as her hands trailed.
“Like you don’t know,” I pouted.
“I don’t know,” she returned instantly, “Though I can assume you’re in a bad mood, given your sullen attitude.”
“You’re the reason I’m in a bad mood. You’ve ruined my life,” I growled, “Why would you name me such an awful thing? Everyone hates me because of you.”
The hag sighed, retrieving a tin container from the pantry and turning to face me, “You know I can’t tell you that.”
“That’s bullshit!” I called the witch out, “You know what I think? I think you’re full of shit, just like every other nomer. I think you get off on believing you’re so special with this supposed gift and that really, you’re just spouting nonsense!”
She placed the bin on the table in front of me and pulled a chair from underneath, slowly easing herself into it, “Whether you believe in the power or not, the fact remains that I no longer know what glimpse of your person I got while naming you. That tiny portion of knowledge leaves the moment it comes.”
“Daisy, Hunter, Chief, River…these are all people you’ve named around my age,” I recalled, “Daisy is a jerk who hides behind her good looks, Hunter is obsessed with weapons, Chief is the most average person there is, River is loud and obnoxious, and Bully? Well, he is constantly trying to be nice or invisible, but gets singled out and hurt just the same. How come out of all these people, I’m the only one with a negative name and condemned for it?”
There was a hint of a smile on the crone’s crusty lips then, “I think you’re beginning to answer your own questions. An important part of growing is being deductive and hammering things out,” white eyes stared while she pried the cookie tin open, soon sliding it toward me, “Have one, Bully.”
“Don’t call me that!” I snapped, vision falling to the circular metal container with just a few small pastries left in it. Reluctantly, I took one and began nibbling.
“Is it good? I’m afraid they might have gone stale,” the woman commented absentmindedly.
Ignoring both her question and the taste of the cookie as I crunched on it, I stayed on topic, “Are you trying to tell me you named us all opposites? ‘Cause that’s not true. You named Dalai, and he grew up to be just as wise and passive as the infamous guru. That’s one example.”
The witch chuckled, “No, it wasn’t my meaning, though you must understand nomers know very little about it all themselves. The sense is there for an intense moment, then vanishes, leaving us with only a subtle idea behind why the name was chosen.”
“Then you do have some sort of clue!” I piped excitedly, “What is it? Anything! Please tell me something that will help me to understand why my life is like this; what is wrong with me…”
The woman’s lips uncurled into a straight line, what little light visible in her blank eyes disappearing, “Bully, I can’t tell you, even if I wanted to. People like me are only allowed to reveal so much. If we overstep our bounds, then we risk upsetting the balance of the universe itself. That’s why our gift is as touch-and-go as it is.”
I couldn’t resist a laugh, a simple chortle that gradually grew into a maniac’s unhinged cry, “I thought you were full of shit, but that is just ridiculously pretentious! How any of these people can be so dimwitted as to trust a fool like you is beyond me!”
“Bully,” the hag started calmly.
“DON’T CALL ME THAT!” I shouted, jumping from my seat and throwing the wooden chair to the ground.
“Alright,” the woman tried more carefully, “What would you like to be called?”
“I…” my chest heaved, desperate not to lash out and prove my namesake, which was a constant battle in my life, “Anything but that. Why don’t you look, ya old witch, look again and give me something better this time.”
The woman took a deep breath in and exhaled, “No, you choose.”
“I…I…” as I stood there, confusion consuming me, I found I was completely incapable of coming up with even one name. Several passed through my head, some plain, others ornate, and most of which belonged to people I knew or heard of. None seemed to fit me, to feel like me. All my brain kept saying each time I directed the sense of a name back toward myself, was Bully.
“BULLY!” I finally screamed, lunging at the woman and causing her to topple out of her seat and onto the floor planks. I watched as she used all of her physical strength to crawl up onto her side, coughing when she lifted her head.
“You can’t see past it yet,” she spoke oddly, “But you’ll learn.”
“What the hell are you mumbling about?” I barked, stepping closer to the old lady and giving her a swift kick in the chest, making her coughing turn into a fit. I had become entirely unconcerned for her well-being. I hated her before, but now I wanted her dead, “Be honest with me! Tell me the truth!”
After a moment where all that could be heard was the witch’s attempts to regain herself, I swung my boot into her chest again…then again, then aimed for her face the third time. Her hacks transformed into gasps while I stood over her, seething, uncaring for her struggle. Just as I opened my mouth to say something else, I observed her clutch onto her upper arm, body beginning to stiffen. I wasn’t dumb. I knew what was happening. The bat was having a heart attack.
I didn’t move.
I didn’t care that she was dying.
I simply observed as her body slowly…stopped…fighting…
I was so fucking tired; I tried to reach out for help and was denied time and time again. My parents, teachers, other kids, even the nomer. Nobody cared; why should I? She got what she deserved. They’d all get what they deserved. My parents went along with this cruel game, the teachers refused to give me fair trial, and my peers? They were shallow, judgmental pricks who cast me out for things I had no control over.
Yes, they’d all get what was coming to them. Bully was no bully. He was driven to madness, to exact judgement upon a world that subjected him to torment without cause and without reason. No, I wasn’t a bully. I was a kid, condemned evil at birth not for actions of my own, but the simple, fleeting feeling of another. The unfounded and brief thought that said ‘Hm, I have nothing to back this up, but maybe he’ll turn into a little jerk one day.’ Bullshit. Trash, the lot of them.
“Bully, is that you?” Mom’s voice asked when I shut the front door of our house.
Before going inside, I had stopped at our tiny tool shed and searched for a weapon. My family didn’t own guns and apparently neither had the witch. I took the time to decide which item was best. A shovel? I could swing it so that the edge of the metal cut, or the flat of it caused blunt trauma. It was a bit awkward due to its length and my small size though. Hammer could have been used if I could both sneak up on my targets and get hard enough a hit in an appropriate place so that they couldn’t retaliate or run, but it seemed iffy. Garden sheers, screwdrivers, chainsaw, chains….I had decided on the tiny axe in the end.
The blade, blackened from time, stuck into the side of her throat, her hand immediately reaching up to grab it. However, as her fingers touched the metal, mind trying to catch up to what was happening, I began tugging at the handle. After a few pulls, I retrieved my weapon from her flesh and a spurt of crimson shot forth. It was only then that she managed to move at all. The woman fell forward, hands in front of her to brace on the coffee table. Rigidly, she rotated to the side, dropping onto her ass on the floor when she saw her attacker finally.
Mom had been sitting on the couch, facing the opposite direction as I entered, and I didn’t allow her time to twist her neck before I had my hatchet lifted. I swung. Her lips quivered, eyes widened as that hand returned to her wound which was painting the side of her red, staining her favorite dress permanently. I could barely make out that she was mouthing my name. The shock on her expression was priceless…perfect. Feel it. Feel all the pain of your betrayal! It’s not so nice when you’re the one hurting, now is it? My mind rushed with sadistic thoughts as I glared down upon the woman who had played a large part in my undoing.
She had lost a lot of blood and I could tell that she was beginning to weaken because she remained on the carpet, fumbling, bewildered eyes drooping shut. Creeping around the sofa, my boot squished in the soaked fabric where the plasma from her neck had been collecting. As I lifted the hatchet once more, Mom sputtered a word…no, two words.
“LIAR!” I screamed, swinging the blade into her again. This time, I successfully hit the front of her esophagus as her arms flailed frantically, hoping to stop the attack. She failed to save herself just like she had failed to save me. Her fate was was her own doing.
“LET ME GO!” I cried, nearly losing my weapon when two arms slithered around me from behind.
“WHAT THE FUCK HAVE YOU DONE?!”
My head jerked to the side as I fought my father’s grasp. I should have said something to make my point clear. To make them see this was all their fault…that they deserved to suffer as they had made me suffer. They should be thankful I planned to do it quickly instead of drawing their torment out to match the years of agony I had endured. However, I couldn’t do anything except scream like a wild animal, squealing like a stuck pig. The man was incredibly stronger than me, so I used all I had, refusing to pull punches. I slung the handy axe backward, catching him unexpectedly.
Dad’s hold lessened, allowing me to twist enough that I could land a blow down onto his broad shoulders. He growled loudly, hissing with barred teeth and studying me with eyes angrier than I’d ever seen him wear. Readying for another strike aimed at his neck, I was met with numbed commands insisting I stop.
Obviously, I disobeyed, but my attack was blocked nonetheless. The man succeeded where his wife had fell short and grabbed the hatchet’s handle. Slipping his fingers over mine, he dug their tips beneath my grasp, forcing me to lose control of the weapon. The steel clanked against the coffee table before falling silently onto the now crimson carpet.
I screeched with fury, reaching for the blade while hurling insults at my father. He, on the other hand, hurled me, specifically making sure I was unable to block my fall by yanking my arms backward. My head crashed into the corner of the table, nearly jabbing into my eye. My body then rolled off onto the now lifeless corpse of my mother.
“GET OFF OF HER, YOU LITTLE CUNT!” the man’s anger bubbled into steamy sobs.
I tried moving, but my head was so foggy…I could barely feel my limbs. I thought I picked myself up a few inches, but maybe it was just Dad lifting me because soon, I was flung across the room. This time, my head banging into the bottom of the large window was the last thing I felt.
When I awoke, I felt no pain. Not in my head and not in my heart. Everything seemed so empty and full at the same time. I could feel my own life, yet hadn’t a clue about the state I was in. It took many minutes or more for me to realize I couldn’t see and I couldn’t move. You’d think it would cause panic, but it didn’t. I wasn’t scared, nor angry, nor happy.
Slowly, white light began showing itself. It was soft at first, quickly growing into an all-encompassing beam. After this settled out, shapes started materializing around me. I waited patiently for them to become clear and to receive an answer as to what was happening, which eventually came to pass.
Once I saw the home around me, people dressed in black clothes and solemn expressions standing idly about, I once more could move. It wasn’t like a body either. It felt…it was like blowing bubbles. I could move the wispy energy that was my form through subtle whispers. That was the best I could describe it anyway.
It was a funeral.
I already knew I was dead, but the details were only slowly coming together. I noticed all my distant family was there as were several neighbors and a few kids I recognized from school. I wafted about the room, the movements of the living occasionally disturbing my flow. I searched for Dad. He had to be here. Or did he hate me so much that he wouldn’t attend? If I had the capacity for it any longer, I would have felt relieved when I saw the man looming over the open casket.
That is…until I fluttered over.
It wasn’t my funeral. From inside the box, a woman smiled idly under the guise of sleep, dressed in formal attire, makeup covering her wounds. It was Mom. I jerked my attention away at the sound of a voice. The noises around me were muddled. My sight might be decent, but my hearing was still distorted. It was Dad. He was staring at his wife, muttering something…something important. I strained to hear, yet nothing became any clearer.
“He’s asking not to be left alone,” a new, clean voice sounded from the other side of the casket.
Looking up, my vision caught on two other ethereal beings. Like me, their forms were energy, yet somehow, I recognized them after only a second of study. It was the nomer who had spoken, and my mom was floating beside her. It would have been an appropriate time to apologize or even reiterate why I had been driven to do all if it. Even thus, there was no anger, no distress within me and I could sense none from the other ghosts either.
“You can hear easier because of your gift?” I surmised.
Without nodding, the nomer affirmed, “The spirit has a different set of rules. I can know more here than I ever could alive. Same as you.”
My focus flitted over to Mom who portrayed an understanding though the look of her changed naught. My eyes were back on Dad, witnessing his hate and his sorrow: the despicable torment of being amongst the living. So this was it, then, the grand plan; how it all worked. Peace in exchange for emotion, understanding in exchange for numbness. You can live knowing pain will always be there, or you can become a void so that you’ll never hurt.
~Sahreth ‘Baphy’ Bowden