Only $4.99 in Kindle format and $12.56 on hard copy
Publisher Dog Ear Publishing
Only $4.99 in Kindle format and $12.56 on hard copy
Bertram Bishop-Bert for short-has been seeing things. Strange things. Ever since his mom's divorce and their move to a new town named Hart, New York, he and his teenage sister, Blanche, have had problems adjusting-not just to the new town and school, but to the magic spells, vampires, and demons in that new town that seem to be tracking them down. And when a series of murders rocks the community, Bert must find out who-or what-is behind the crimes before it is too late for Blanche-and himself.
I think it was some president who once said, “Some are born great and others have greatness thrust upon them.” I guess an elected official would fall into the category of having greatness “thrust” upon them, but for me—and others like me who fall into the “born great” group—greatness isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. My name is Bertram Bishop, and for the sixteen years of my life I thought I was fairly normal, well, aside from my name, of course.
My life started out normal enough, me being the product of a Jane Austen–obsessed mother and a father who was as spineless as an amoeba. Everything was almost normal before my father left. I had a family, and not just a family but the typical, nuclear American family. We were the family whose story could be told by a ceiling-high stack of filmed birthdays, first steps, and Thanksgivings spent with relatives we no longer spoke to. But as the saying goes, “all good things must come to an end,” and they did for us. For the last four months, it was just my mother, my older sister, Blanche, and me, attempting to live the only life we had ever known, only minus one. It wasn’t easy for any of us, but we pretended it was, and sometimes pretending is all you can do.
Divorce aside, if you asked me I’d say that my life was comfortably mediocre. I was just starting my junior year of high school. I nearly had all of my credits secured, and my path toward the rest of my life was carefully under construction. I knew what I wanted, and I knew the journey I had to take to get there. I was ready. Ready for anything. Anything but that fucking town.
* * *
So let’s begin with the name: Bertram. My mom says it’s Victorian, and it probably hasn’t been used since. It partially ruined my childhood, but I’ve since been known as Bert, which has shown to be a more effective name —when it comes to living in those pesky non-Victorian settings. I guess I should consider myself lucky in comparison to my sister because there’s just no nickname for Blanche—aside from the array of names starting with a capital B that I called her—but I’ll get to all that later. My mother was simply Barbra: Barbra Bishop, and despite how she sharpened her s or emphasized every “a” she pronounced, she couldn’t change the fact that she had the name of a 1970s porn star. This bothered her a lot.
If there’s one thing I learned a long time ago it is that Shakespeare was way off when he wrote that whole Romeo and Juliet nonsense: a name is everything. It’s not just what people call you, but also what you answer to. It’s even the first line of judgment when it comes to meeting people, and that’s what I cared most about. Not judging people—okay, maybe judging people a little bit—but for another reason: a good reason. Unlike most sixteen-year-olds, I knew what I wanted to do for the rest of my life: I wanted to be a journalist. And not just any journalist, but a journalist to make all others look like they worked for school papers. I wanted to make political leaders cry at the very sound of my name. I wanted to see my byline just under the giant, bold-print headings of all the big newspapers in the New York area. I wanted to be just a name, a name that was either loved or hated—and probably created from a crafty pun or the name of my first pet and the street I grew up on. A name without a face that I could wear when I wanted to fulfill that human desire to leave a stain on this world and keep an average life.
I grew up in a small Long Island suburb in the shadow of New York City. The town was called Bellmore. It was everything you might expect from a town that was rumored to be named after the doorbell-ringing habits of one of its first settlers. The town had since matured into a one-chain-restaurant town full of delightfully apathetic people. But as much as I loved to criticize it, it was home to me.
Bellmore, like most of Long Island, was an acquired taste. To the rest of the country we were simply the sandbar with nice beaches where the people from New York City lived. A place with sky-high property taxes and where, if you were bleeding on the street, no one would stop to help you—unless, of course, you bled onto their overpriced sneakers. Honestly, Long Island really wasn’t too different from what people thought. The funny thing was that I loved it for those very same reasons. I loved the sense I felt of just sinking into the backdrop of all the chaos: that feeling that I could look and listen in on the lives of the oblivious people who didn’t even notice I was there.
I went to Cedar High School, and it was within its winding hallways and cozy classrooms that I began to pave my “professional” reputation. I was one of the editors of the school paper, The Cedar Tribune, and the only self-proclaimed investigative journalist in the club.
School paper or not, I took my job very seriously. My name struck terror in the heart of the athletics department, and I gave the English department a headache. In only two short years I managed to produce a series of articles so provocative that the PTA tried to get me suspended and opted to shut the paper down completely. With a little bit of finesse, I was able to regain my position as junior editor, under the condition that I would never again write about things that I felt really needed exposing—that is, the people whom I felt needed some exposing.
I used my articles as a way to reduce the most untouchable students: the sports stars, prom queens, and class presidents. I wrote in a style that I saw as mirroring the model of the American media: if it was a rumor and would get my name in people’s mouths, it was good enough for me. I admit that I may have published an article or two about drunken party shenanigans involving the football team or alleged pregnancies, but it got people to read the paper, not to mention it was a great stress-reliever. Writing gave me power—and I liked power.
Some people may have gone as far as to say that what I wrote was pure lies, but I never really understood how something I had completely created could be a lie: after all, it was all true to me. I also felt it was my job to even the playing field and to pull those “untouchables” down onto the same ground.
* * *
It was about the third week of my junior year, and school was in full force. The hallways were no longer buzzing with the tellings of alcohol-fueled summers and who was no longer a virgin. The entire school life had been drained out by the caustic sway of bells and tests, team tryouts and overtly complex assignments. A good story was very hard to come by in these days, but for seasoned high school reporters such as myself, there were always ways to get stories. For the majority of my lunch and off periods I would walk around and just listen. Of course, most of what I heard was as meaningful as white noise, but occasionally I would overhear something juicy. But at the end of the day, it was still Bellmore, and even the juicy at its best was just moist.
It was eighth period, and my wandering had already made me late to the weekly meeting for Tribune reporters in the library. I gave a mental sigh of relief as I entered the same-vacant library to find the same-blank stares coming from the same-motley crew of students.
“Nice of you to show, Bert,” greeted Amy. Amy Sayers and I had known each other since elementary school. She was a girl with the body of a trophy wife from the 1950s. Her round hips and shapely figure were the cause of her near-constant teasing from third grade on, until she got boobs, which stopped some of the mocking but in no way got her out of harm’s way. Still, one look at her emerald eyes and soft, rounded face could tell you what a golden person she was. It was my near-constant protection of her, from the fourth grade on, that kept us best friends.
“Yeah, I canceled my twelve-thirty just to make it here,” I mocked as I took the open seat beside her.
“So guys, we’re in our third week back: what’s going on to substitute for real news?” I continued.
They all stared blankly as I got situated while one upperclassman gathered his books and stormed off. I sometimes had that effect on people.
“Anybody have anything? Anything at all?”
“Well,” began a tiny freshman whose name eluded me. “I know we—well, you—don’t like covering these stories, but Mr. Kelly said to branch off and cover more diverse news. The football team might make it to the state championships this year and—”
“Cady, allow me to interrupt,” I said, putting my feet on the table.
“My name is Cindy,” she responded blankly.
“Right. Cindy, I know you’re new to the whole ‘news game’—being a freshman and all—but let me remind you that we are a newspaper. Given that nothing interesting ever happens in Bellmore, there are about three other local papers who would love to publish a story on insecure guys who enjoy grappling other men. But I want, ‘Valedictorian Gets Pregnant’ or ‘Star Quarterback Involved in Gay Craigslist Ad’: you know, something of real substance,” I answered, much to the discontent of the other four underclassmen who looked like they, too, wanted to leave.
“Good thing it’s not your paper, Bert,” interjected Amy. She was the senior editor of the paper and the only one to keep my goals in check. She thanked Cindy and asked if there were any more ideas that would not get us all expelled. The other four, who ranged from Jonathans to Andrews, looked blankly at each other before nervously shaking their heads.
“Okay, well, let’s think of some more ideas for Friday’s meeting after school with Mr. Kelly,” she continued.
Like insects beneath a disrupted rock, they gathered their wheeled backpacks and bulky textbooks and scattered, many without even looking back.
“What a group we have this year. Football? Is that what we have been reduced to writing about?” I asked forcefully, as I shrugged off the librarian’s glare. “I feel so . . . audited.”
“Oh my God, a story that shines a positive light on Cedar High, what’s next? They’re freshman, what do you expect? And have you ever heard of ‘human interest’ stories?”
“Yeah, I have, Amy, and I find them uninteresting,” I replied.
We both let out a slight bout of laughter, gaining us another “Shhh” from the increasingly volatile librarian. She looked like a Buddha statue, only she moved and spoke and never really looked happy.
“So, Bert,” Amy whispered, “I know you’re against all things typical of high school, but rumor has it the football team is throwing a winter dance in November. It might be fun to go. Like, I wanted to go, but just not alone. So if, maybe, you wanted to go or something . . . but not like a date—so not like a date. But . . . you know, to get . . . information and to report and stuff. Together, as opposed to me going alone,” she babbled.
“So you’re asking me out?” I asked crudely, cracking a crooked grin and raising my eyebrow. I was being a complete jerk by this time: had I seen myself, I would have written a story about me.
“Don’t be an asshole, Bert,” she hissed, fighting the reddening of her cheeks. I realized that she was completely serious.
“Maybe,” I answered. For once I was at a loss for words. I loved Amy; I just didn’t “love” Amy.
“I like you a lot, but not nearly as much as I hate the football cult,” I joked. “But, anyway, I have to run: Mama Bishop has a family dinner planned tonight. Which usually means she has a big announcement, like how laundry day is switching or she’s planning a family vacation that will never happen. Could be a divorce, too, I guess, but that‘s probably not it . . . again.”
I gathered my things before giving Amy a fake, friendly, one-armed hug. Question dodged; damage averted. Before I left, I turned back to her.
“Hey, Amy, just remember, I don’t put out on the first date!”
I had a habit of not being able to control the volume of my voice in delicate situations such as this. My joke sort of echoed through the empty library, and Amy appeared livid as her plump face absorbed her narrow eyes. She gave me the middle finger before “Librarian-the-Hut” offered another hiss of silence, which again was very un-Buddha-like.
* * *
I walked home on the same path I had taken since middle school. Down Newbridge Road, past my elementary school and the street-lightless corners where I would drink and smoke cigarettes late at night. Every step I took was a step rich with memories of best friends past and present. I walked through my typical surroundings barely even thinking about what passed me by. I finally arrived at the corner of Norwood and Harlane, to the white split-level house I had called home all my life. I stepped over the pile of free newspapers at my driveway’s apron, over the oil stain left by my father’s car, and up to the overflowing mailbox. Carefully juggling my keys, books, and mail, I just made it through the door and into my house before everything came crashing out of my hands.
“Bertram, is that you, honey?” called my mother as a foreign smell from the kitchen dropkicked my nose.
“Yeah, Mom, it’s me,” I responded, kicking all my stuff beneath the nearest table.
“Wash up and come into the dining room. I’m cooking Sri Lankan tonight: I got a recipe from one of the girls at work.”
“Is something burning?” I asked. The smell intensified as I approached the dining room.
“No, it’s just the curry powder . . . I think. Let me see,” she responded. The smoke alarm went off.
“Shit!” she yelled, coughing on the smoke.
I sat down at the table, straightening the napkins and the utensils that sat on top of them, as I knew after destroying dinner this would be my mother‘s new focus. Then I pulled out my cell phone and placed an order for a pizza. I had just begun opening the windows when my mother emerged from the cloud of smoke I had formerly called the kitchen.
“I’m sorry. I think I ruined dinner.” She sighed. Her lanky arm swiped her damp forehead, and her chipped nails poked and pried at her large, curly bob. “Better order a pizza or something before your sister gets home.”
“I got it covered, Mom,” I responded. I was happy that my mother’s only adventurous streak came out in her attempted cooking.
“Do you have any idea where your sister is?” She sighed as she poured herself a well-deserved glass of wine.
“Not a clue, but I’d check the distance between the nearest liquor store and motel,” I scoffed.
“Bertram, don’t say that about your sister!” she blared.
We sat there, awkwardly exchanging a play-by-replay of our days. We spoke about everything down to the most miniscule detail in hopes that we would not look to the end of the table where my father would have sat, and where nobody but the piles of his mail had sat since.
“We ordered a pizza?” said Blanche as she stormed in about a half hour later, holding the much better-smelling box. Her hair was the color of blond that could only be admired through sunglasses. But fake hair was just the tip of the iceberg for her species of girl—her vibrant clothing colors might have made up for the general lack of it, but nothing really made up for her absence of morals.
“Oh hey, honey, how was your day? I’m glad you’re home. Here, use this to pay the pizza guy and come sit down. I have some fantastic news for you guys!” exclaimed my mother, with a desperate enthusiasm that was nothing short of horrific, as she handed Blanche the money.
“Bert is finally leaving for boarding school?” spat out Blanche. She smelled faintly of cigarettes and the detergent they washed hotel sheets with.
“They found a cure for herpes?” I shot back.
“No, you two,” my mother barked. “I really hope I’m doing this right, but guys, I’m making some big changes. Not just for me, but for all of us. I know it’s been hard for us since your father left, but I think this is the best thing we can do. We’re moving.”
“What!?” shouted Blanche and I in unison.
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Anthony Vincent is a writer, teacher, and comic residing on Long Island, NY. From a young age, Anthony has been fascinated with mythology and folklore from all around the world. He currently teaches writing and literature courses at two colleges in NY.