Dark Shadows 1970 by David Ciminello

Editor Matty Byloos, Fiction, September 6th, 2017

"...pieces of boy, some soft, some hard as knotty pine..."

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Fiction by David Ciminello.

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I first met Kevin Tappan on a hill up behind his house, in a muddy gully between two boulders tilting out of uneven ground. It was a place he liked to go to rifle through the mud and dirt with his Matchbox cars and Hot Wheels, scraping roads with hands and sticks, building car forts and mini mansions out of flat rocks and twigs. When he was bored with this little world he would flip through baseball cards until the dinner bell rang.

One windy autumn day, I decided to try a new shortcut home from the schoolyard through the wooded backyards of Wayne, New Jersey, kicking my way through dead leaves, examining tree trunks the size of Hercules. The neighborhood still smelled new back then. One could find an old arrowhead in the uncaked ground around where the blueprint of a fresh house was being nailed up, safe and sound. Rain-soaked stacks of maple-scented plywood cut into planks, pieces of plastic piping, truck tracks that looked as if they’d been pressed by army tanks. Lots of tree fort building materials. A 1970 suburban boy’s dream. One could get lost in the wood skeleton of a split-level ranch. The giant ribcage could become a haunted castle loaded with secret rooms. A place where a King could kiss his Queen or a place where a boy could dream about finding his prince, if he was so inclined. A land of make-believe, full of vagrant tough guys and innocence thieves.

“Hey, you’re trespassing on my property FAGGOT!” Kevin Tappan, number one son in a cold crew of towheaded bullies, hollered. I turned to see the face of an angel stamped onto the soul of a young Mephistopheles. Mean eyes a tender wash of turquoise. Pink lips snarled above a heart-shaped little chin. An uneven rash of Dutch freckles. Two missing teeth smack in the middle of a shit-eating jack-o-lantern grin.

“Hey FAGGOT, did you hear what I said?”

I didn’t really know what a faggot was – yet. It could have been my new plastic oval- shaped Matchbox car case or the rubber-banded stack of baseball cards in my other hand, but Kevin had me on the ground tasting dirt and sand, my right arm twisted up behind my back.

“Got you, faggot,” he hissed in my ear.

Kevin was older than me. Two years or so. And seemed twice as big. So, he didn’t expect it when I flipped him off my back, spun him around, slammed him onto the ground, and aggressively pressed my fire engine red Ked into the shelf of his collarbone. His tough little Hot Wheels belt buckle glinted in the afternoon sun.

“Who’s got who now?” I asked.

“Get off me!” he screamed. “Get the fuck off me!”

He screamed like he was screaming for his Mommy or his Daddy.

“Say you’ll be my friend!” I hollered into to his pink face steaming with rage and shame. “Say you’ll be my friend and that you’ll come home and watch TV with me and I’ll let you go and MAYBE I won’t do it again.”

“Okay! Okay!” he squealed.

I gave him one final kick before I let him up. “Let’s go,” I said.

“But it’s gonna be dinnertime soon,” Kevin whined.

“Tough.” There was no room for negotiation. “You can call your mother from my house. Pick up my cars and cards. You’re gonna carry ‘em.”

“Why we walkin’ so fast?” he asked.

“I have to make it home before Dark Shadows,” I said.

“What’s Dark Shadows?”

“Foolish mortal!” I laughed, exposing my new plastic glow-in-the-dark vampire fangs.

An hour later, after plowing our way through a fresh bag of Chips Ahoy and sharing a carton of whole milk while watching the episode where Doctor Hoffman unleashes a cure so Barnabas the vampire could live in daylight, Kevin was in. It wasn’t Star Trek, he said, but it sure was neat. He especially liked the beautiful blond witch, Angelique. Saucer- shaped emerald eyes and banana curls that bounced as she cursed her enemies.

“She’s so hot,” he said.

Of course, I had my favorite too. Tall Quentin Collins with his full head of lanky Heathcliff hair and eyes that were so damned blue, blue like the sky above Wayne, New Jersey in June. Almost the same blue as Kevin’s, even when the full moon bloomed and Quentin sprouted claws and werewolf fur.

“It’s especially neat you have a Quasar Color TV,” Kevin said over my mother’s famous meatballs and tomato gravy. “Hey, can we hang out again tomorrow?” he asked.

“Dark Shadows starts at 3:30. Don’t be any later than 3:15,” I commanded like Collinwood’s comely witch. “Ring the doorbell three times, so I know it’s you.”

David Ciminello Fiction Nailed MagazineKevin and I spent almost every weekday afternoon in front of the TV floating through the secret passageways of Collinwood, dodging parallel time bands, watching dismembered heads speak, avoiding dream curses, and traveling into past centuries with the mystical assistance of the I Ching. During commercial breaks (Arrid Extra Dry, Tab, Tame Shampoo, and the like) Kevin told me all about girls. He illuminated me on the facts of life. He told me girls had dicks.

“They’re little but they’re there. I have sisters. I know,” he said.

He told me my favorite actress Vivien Leigh had to fuck to have a baby. I thought all she had to do was kiss. Kevin laughed and drew me a detailed diagram of exactly what she had to do. “Screw,” he called it. “She had to screw.”

I imagined my father working on my mother with his Phillips super cool six-pointed star-shaped head.

“She had to screw,” Kevin repeated, as he artfully drew.

I stupidly left Kevin’s drawings on the rust colored carpet of the rec room for my mother to find. This suspended our Dark Shadows dates for a couple of weeks. My mother made my father sit me down and explain everything to me. He couched it as something completely carnal. “What the dogs do like crazy every spring.”

My mother screamed it was only done after the marriage vows were exchanged. It was only done for love. “God,” she yelled, “meant it be lovely!”

To me it all sounded positively disgusting. That is to say, until I started imagining what it might be like to kiss and screw a man. I had no control over these thoughts. They manifested at the oddest of times. While I was in school, sitting behind my desk listening to ridiculous algebra rhymes, I imagined what it might be like for Kevin to screw me. Or what it might be like to screw Kevin.

During lunch one day (rancid chicken chop suey), after Kevin bragged about one of his girlfriends, he asked, “Hey, when are we gonna watch Dark Shadows again?”

That afternoon we were back on the rec room rug in front of the color TV, both of us belly down watching the werewolf transform when I suddenly felt Kevin’s leg press against mine. As Quentin Collins sprouted his fur and claws Kevin turned to me, all milk and cookie breath. “Wanna kiss?” he said. “Or I can just bite your neck like Barnabas Collins. Or you can bite mine.”

A crooked little shiver played up and down my spine. Then I shook like a dog after a cold bath. Who’s the faggot now? I wanted to ask. The werewolf on TV howled and I howled too. This scared Kevin, but he was undeterred.

“Come on,” he said, hopping on top of me. “Let’s wrestle again.”

For a few minutes everything was a swirl of corduroy, t-shirts, orange rug wool, and sweaty pieces of boy, some soft, some hard as knotty pine (the naughty parts, both his and mine). This time Kevin had me pinned down, knees straddling my hips, his Hot Wheels belt buckle nipping at my stomach, until I yelled, “I knew you were a faggot! You’re the faggot!” I cried.

He immediately stopped dry-humping and hyperventilated over my face. I could see the brown cookie crumbs caked between his teeth, the chocolate packed into the crowns of his molars. I could see up his crusty nostrils. I could see he was fighting to breathe. For a moment his turquoise eyes locked onto mine. I wanted to yell like a soap opera actress on fire, Sex without love is a crime! Then I wanted him to ravish me the way Quentin ravished Angelique. Instead, I pushed Kevin’s slack body off me, rolled away and stood on my Keds. I told him to go home. I told him I never wanted to see him again. Then I howled one more time for good measure. I howled like a werewolf as I watched him scramble out of our Dark Shadows den.

For weeks I didn’t answer the phone. I let the doorbell ring and ring at 3:15. I avoided him in the lunchroom. I walked home from school a different way every day.

Eventually Kevin folded himself into a new set of friends. A merry band of fire- starting, fort-building, farting little roughnecks. I held fast for as long as I could. Then, sitting in Earth Science one day, I started to wonder if they were dry-humping, if maybe they were kissing and screwing and biting each other’s necks. It all got the better of me. I finally passed Kevin a note on a stormy Thursday:

Wanna watch Dark Shadows with me later today?

Fuck you, you little faggot! his note back said.

After remedial reading the next day, I followed him into the boys’ room. I cornered him against the moldy tiles in a damaged stall, bared my plastic fangs, and demanded to know why he wouldn’t watch Dark Shadows with me anymore. He tried to back away. When I told him I loved him and wanted to have his baby the look of fear and disgust on his face slayed me. “Are you fucking kidding me?” he yelled. In my own shock and grief at what I had said, I let him spit in my face. “Go ahead!” I screamed as he tore out of the bathroom. “Just try and stop loving me!” I sat on the shit-stained toilet for over an hour, chewing on my fangs, nursing my wounded dignity. I thought about possibly murdering Kevin by using a voodoo doll or by casting a wicked spell and sending him to another century. Perhaps I could feign amnesia and forget the whole Goddamned thing. Nothing I could think of seemed to mollify me. Even though I still had my future husband Quentin Collins and my freaky friends in Collinwood for comfort, without the curse of tow-headed Kevin Tappan, I knew deep in my creepy little heart, watching Dark Shadows would never be the same.

That afternoon, after the wailing Theremin kicked in and the spooky opening theme swooned over the swelling ocean waves, something snapped inside me and I slammed off the TV. I sat on the rust-colored rug and stared at the dark screen, seething. I couldn’t howl. I wanted to scream. I sure as hell wouldn’t cry. Instead, I spit out my fake fangs, choked back hot tears, raised my fist, and vowed, “As God is my witness, I will never EVER watch Dark Shadows again!”

Then the doorbell rang three times.

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Header image courtesy of Constantinos Chaidalis. To view his Artist Feature, go here.

David Ciminello Fiction Nailed MagazineDavid Ciminello’s fiction has appeared in the Lambda Literary Award winning anthology Portland Queer: Tales of The Rose City, Underwater New York, Lumina, and on Broadcaster. His poetry has appeared in Poetry Northwest. He is a 2011 Lambda Literary Fellow in Fiction and a proud recipient of a 2013 Table 4 Writers Foundation grant. His original screenplay Bruno (a finalist in the Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting) appears on DVD as The Dress Code. David currently lives in Portland, Oregon where he works as a writer and educator.

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Matty Byloos

Matty Byloos is Co-Publisher and a Contributing Editor for NAILED. He was born 7 days after his older twin brother, Kevin Byloos. He is the author of 2 books, including the novel in stories, ROPE ('14 SDP), and the collection of short stories, Don't Smell the Floss ('09 Write Bloody Books).