INTRODUCTION BY BRANDON TAYLOR
To me, a scary story is any story in which the character presumes that they have more control than they actually do. The horror depends not so much on the monster at the door or the killer under the bed (though what happens is important), but in the differential between what a character knows to be their circumstances and what those circumstances actually are. They are stories that reveal how easy it is to end up in a position of vulnerability, how readily life can change, leaving us exposed. Aimee Cryer’s excellent “Champion Beasts” is one of these scary stories.
“Champion Beasts” centers on one of those basement parties where young people try on adult personas and bluff their way through beer and sex and rivalries and love. We know more or less how it will end, what mistakes will be made, how the characters will betray each other and themselves. We know this because Cryer writes with such direct, unsentimental specificity that the reader feels again that prickly heat of anticipation as you get ready to go out with your friends. You can almost smell the body spray and the hair gel. Told via a sinuous, shifting point-of-view, the story reveals to us what is at stake for each of these characters, and how their needs will inevitably lead to conflict and confrontation.
While the point-of-view roams around, gathering steam, the character for whom we come to feel the most sympathy is Junie. Deep into the story, there is a brutal scene that alarms perhaps because it feels so inevitable. But it is not the only one of such scenes. Time and again, we see characters do things they aren’t ready to do simply because they want to prove how tough they are, how strong, how game, how up to the task they are. We see them put on facades to face the hard, tough world even as Cryer cracks open these shells to reveal the characters for what they really are: scared children. Take the opening lines: “Junie Gunn went home early from school because her armpits smelled bad. She called her mom and told her that she felt like maybe she would throw up and her mom said, ‘ok.’ Junie went home and made five taquitos and ranch dressing for a snack and her mom said, ‘Don’t fill up. I’m making wraps for lunch.'” This is a kid, begging off from school, aware of her body, anxious and tingly.
There were so many moments I wanted to cover my eyes while reading this story, not because a monster had jumped out and spooked me but because Cryer’s frank, precise depictions of the bodies and the minds of young people reminded me of myself and how much I wanted at that age for the world to believe me older than I was, better than I was. The horror of this story is not in the revelation of the identity of the monster. The horror of this story is that it keeps looking long past the point of comfort, until the story becomes a kind of mirror. It reminds us of who we were and alerts us that there was always someone watching us while we did those things we hoped no one would see.
– Brandon Taylor
Senior Editor, Recommended Reading
Binge Drinking To the End of Innocence
by Aimee Cryer
Junie Gunn went home early from school because her armpits smelled bad. She called her mom and told her that she felt like maybe she would throw up and her mom said, “ok.” Junie went home and made five taquitos and ranch dressing for a snack and her mom said, “Don’t fill up. I’m making wraps for lunch.” Junie had lunch wraps with her mom and then went upstairs and played RollerCoaster Tycoon on her old computer.
Casey Kelly texted Junie while she was playing RollerCoaster Tycoon and said, “are you ok?” Junie said, “i threw up.” Casey said, “that’s so sad. can you still go to landon’s tonight?” Junie said, “definitely. you know me lol. i rally like a champ.” Casey said, “yeeesss. that’s why our senior quotes should be ‘fucking champion beasts.’” Junie said, “hahahaha.”
Landon Jackson drove away from school in a car with Bose speakers. When Landon got home, he cut up turkey kielbasa and reheated sweet potatoes. He brought his mom’s dinner to her room. She lay in bed, facing the wall. He touched her shoulder and said, “Dinner…” really quietly. And when Landon left his mom’s room, he left really quietly. Then Landon texted his dad and said “hey” and Landon’s dad texted back and said “can’t talk now bud I’ll call later” and Landon said “ok.” Landon went down to his basement with the pool table and the mini fridge and the mini bar and took a Boomerang video of himself opening a beer that he captioned, “who’s ready?”
Natalia World-Lee held the hand of her boyfriend, Alex McGregor. They walked to Natalia’s house, which wasn’t far from school. It was a house with a green door and planted bulbs. Natalia and Alex convened around her little sister’s Fisher-Price playground. Alex slid backwards down the yellow slide, which was half his length. He tumbled to the grass in a clump where Natalia sat picking purple weeds and tying them in knots. Alex said, “I’m all broken now.” Natalia touched his eyelids with one of her weed flowers and they were quiet for a little while. Natalia said, “I don’t know about tonight.” Alex picked her leg hair and said, “It’ll be fun.” Natalia said, “Ouch” and swiped at his plucking fingers. A few minutes later she draped the purple weeds she’d tied together across his face.
“Ok, I fucking win,” said Casey Kelly to Junie Gunn. “What?” said Junie Gunn. “Oh my fucking shit. Alex is dating a black girl.” Junie Gunn put down her eyebrow wand. It wasn’t really an eyebrow wand; it was clear mascara. Casey had the Browwow gel that Junie wanted, but when Casey came over to get ready before the party and Junie had asked to use it, Casey told her that her mom preferred her not to share face makeup because your face has twice as many germs as the rest of your body. Junie’s makeshift eyebrow shaper was maybe Maybelline. Junie stopped putting on makeup and went to lay on her bed where Casey Kelly was looking at internet pictures of Alex McGregor and Natalia World-Lee. Junie said, “Is this her page?” Casey said, “Yeah, Ian and Leah liked it, so it showed up on mine.” They looked at a picture of Natalia and Alex in grass near a playset. The caption under the picture read “Feels like we’re seven again.” Casey said, “Like, I’m not being racist but this is insane. He’s weird now.” Junie clicked to open the comments. One comment said “grassssss.” Another said “goals.”
Sarah Mitchell picked up her phone and read a message that said “ya bitches are getting ready at junie’s house. cooommmeee over.” Sarah texted back, “at austin’s. i’ll probably just leave with him from here.” Sarah looked up from her phone to see if Austin Lazodo was looking up from his. They were in Austin’s room. Austin looked up and said, “Sorry, I’m almost finished writing.” Austin was texting his brother who was in the Army. Austin didn’t get to talk much to his brother but he was texting him now. Sarah thought it was really sweet that Austin was talking to his brother that he missed but she also didn’t know what to do with herself, so she went to use the bathroom. Since his brother had moved out, Austin was the only child left in the house, and everything in the bathroom was his. Sarah smelled his hair sculpting gel. She thought about him peeing in the night, not really aiming. She cherished his blemish spot treatment zap stick and tucked it away in her heart as a secret they shared. When she got back from the bathroom, Austin wasn’t looking at his phone. Sarah said, “I like your shower curtain” and sat on Austin’s bed with him. Austin’s shower curtain had a map of the world on it. Austin said, “Thanks. My brother picked it out when he lived here. He really wants to travel the world. He has a map tattoo on his back and every time he visits somewhere, he gets it colored in.” Sarah said, “That’s really cool. Where has he gotten it filled in?” Austin said, “Mexico, Canada, and Syria,” and then leaned in and kissed Sarah Mitchell.
The kiss made Sarah’s chest and cheeks red. Sarah did her best to make it hot. She wrapped her legs around Austin and tried to turn over so that she was lying on top of him. They had to do some scooting because Austin had a small bed. Austin took Sarah’s shirt off but struggled with her razor back bra. She took it off for him. Austin said, “Whoa, you have big nipples.” That made the red on Sarah’s chest separate into splotches. She kissed him with a lot of tongue, switching her head around a lot. Austin pulled away and asked Sarah, “Have you ever been fingered?” Sarah said, “Once.” Sarah had never been fingered. She took off her pants which were tight and got stuck on her feet. Sarah had to pull hard to get them off. Austin took off her thong and held it up but Sarah quickly grabbed it and threw it to the floor. She was afraid that the brown boogers that were sometimes in her underwear would be there now. Austin said, “I really want to make you cum.” Sarah said, “Ok.” Austin still had on all his clothes. He rubbed Sarah with two fingers as fast as he could. It burned Sarah’s skin but she didn’t say anything. A few minutes went by and Sarah’s vagina was really starting to hurt. She grabbed Austin’s hand and said, “I think I came.” Austin, whose hand and wrist muscles were starting to ache said, “I think you did too.”
Natalia World-Lee kissed Alex McGregor goodbye. She confirmed with Alex that she’d meet him at Landon’s at 9 o’clock. Alex stuck his bottom lip out and said, “I wish I was driving you.” Natalia said, “I know but Tazaya is picking me up and her mom will freak out if she knows there are boys in the car.” Natalia could see that Alex didn’t get why Tazaya needed to come since she didn’t even go to their school. But Natalia didn’t need Alex to get it. Alex drove away with his windows down. Natalia went inside to her room and opened her windows. There was a nice breeze. Natalia’s mom knocked on her door and came and sat by her on her floor. Natalia was making a collage from magazines and sucked her teeth as her mom’s bottom moved towards the pictures she’d cut out. Her mom said, “Calm down I’m not going to mess up your serial killer art.” Natalia rolled her eyes and her mom laughed. Her mom’s name was Tori and when she laughed there were a thousand lines in her face but when she stopped they all went away. Tori patted her knees and said, “I want to talk about tonight. What’s the plan?” Natalia looked at the picture of a jackalope she’d cut out of a brochure for the Rocky Mountains her dad had brought her from a recycling bin at his work. Her dad liked her collages and stayed on the lookout for “interesting material.” The jackalope’s horns were thin and when Natalia had cut them out they kind of curled over. She smoothed out the curled waxy paper horn and said, “I don’t know. We go and then we come back.” Natalia’s mom said, “You go where? You come back when?” Natalia folded over, exasperated from the two questions and said, into her lap, “I’m riding with Tazaya to Landon Jackson’s house. He lives behind the Forest Run neighborhood on a bunch of land. We probably won’t be there that long.”
Tori pulled her daughter back up into a sitting postion. “You won’t be there past eleven. And why are you in a mood?” Natalia said, “Alex is going to want to stay longer than eleven. That’s only two hours into the party. And I’m not in a mood. I just don’t really want to go. I don’t know a lot of these people.” Tori said, “Then don’t go. I don’t trust parties that start after bedtime anyhow. I want you back by eleven.” Natalia started organizing her cuttings into piles. She looked at her mom and smirked and said, “Most people’s bedtime isn’t nine.” Tori World-Lee started to stand to leave and replied, “It’s happy and safe people’s bedtime. Benjamin Franklin said, ‘Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.’ What time will you be in our house?” Natalia said, “Eleven.” Tori smiled and said, “Don’t worry about these kids. Remember, everyone’s ears are thin and soft.” She left the room. Natalia didn’t know what her mom meant about people’s ears. Natalia’s dad always laughed with Natalia about the things her mom said. They’d joke about her engineer brain coming up with different ways to make the world turn metaphorically. Natalia glued the jackalope onto a cut out of a magazine telephone line. On the same line were other pictures of real bunnies that she’d cut out from different places. The breeze from her window unsorted her piles of pictures.
Landon Jackson plugged his iPhone into speakers that filled his basement with the easy listening sounds of Mac Demarco. His friends David and Seth were there and they played FIFA on a large television. They talked about how many people were coming tonight. They talked about if two hot girls from a rival high school that David had met at Jimmy John’s were coming tonight. They talked about smoking weed tonight. Seth asked Landon if his parents were home. Landon said his mom was upstairs and both his friends knew to leave that alone. Landon said, “My dad’s still on his business trip. But I’m pretty sure his girlfriend had like a cat or something at his apartment and so there’s possibly a dead animal in there.” Seth said, “Yeah, hasn’t he been gone for like two months?” Landon said, “Yeah, s’fucking ridiculous.” Then David scored and Seth said, “Fuck you, man.” David, Seth, and Landon ate hot Cheetos with San Pellegrino’s. Seth told Landon he loved his rich people soda. David said, “20 bucks Casey and Junie get here first.” Landon replied and said, “So fucking desperate. I can’t think of literally any actual chill girls coming tonight. Our whole grade is hoes.” Seth laughed and some San Pellegrino came out the side of his mouth. Seth could think of some chill girls coming tonight. He could think of Lauren Ford and Carin Jeong, the girls in his statistics class who last week came over to his house to do homework. Those girls and Seth had smiled at his mom with orange peels covering their teeth when she asked them how studying was going and if they were going to get a five on the test. Those girls were chill but around his bros they weren’t any fun. They never grinded, they never got drunk, they never were silly, and they never stayed long. Those girls weren’t fun to talk about. So Seth swallowed his San Pellegrino and said, “Chrissy told me that Casey, last month, was on the bus back home from the game against River Run and some girl dared her to stick the end of her pom-pom up her vagina and she did. Just on like a fucking dare.” Landon laughed and said, “That’s what I mean! They’re hoes just for the sake of being hoes.” David chimed in and said, “That’s probably why Alex broke up with her. He’s a chill dude and Casey is for sure going to be a sorority mindless slut in literally 8 months. Guar-an-teed.” Seth said, “Fuck you man, my sister is in a sorority.” David and Landon laughed. Seth said, “Whatever. Landon you gonna get with Junie tonight?” and they all laughed.
Landon hated Junie and Junie was in love with Landon. Landon hated Junie because Landon knew that the reason Junie loved him was because she had seen him cry. Junie had been there at the 4th of July party on the lake when his sister Emily had died. Emily had been on the boat when his Uncle Mike, who doesn’t give no sissy rides on the tube, went too close to the edge of one of the lake’s cul-de-sacs and whipped Emily and her friend into the trees. Emily died immediately. Junie had told everyone that she knew she was dead right away. Junie was in love with Landon because she was there to see his mom fall down on the ground and scream and drool and tear out grass. She had seen Landon and his dad switch off giving Landon’s sister mouth to mouth. Junie was in love with Landon because she had driven him to the hospital once the ambulance had taken his sister. He sobbed with his face in his hands the whole way but she prayed out loud and had asked God for guidance and miracles and that had seemed to settle him a little. Junie wanted to comfort him the rest of her life. She felt like they had been through so much together. Landon hated the way she looked at him and he hated the way that after that day she seemed to be everywhere he went, looking at him, so available for whatever he needed. Landon rolled his eyes at his friends and said, “Fuck desperate hoes.”
Casey and Junie were the first to arrive at Landon’s house, but four other girls were pulling into his driveway at the same time. They knew to enter at the basement door. They said, “Hey girl” and touched the fabric of each other’s clothes and said, “This is really cute. I’ve been looking for something like this.” When they came through the door, they were all in conversation so that the three boys already there felt like a party was running them over and they didn’t know how to enter the conversation and for a second all three of them wished sorely that they were at home alone, but only for a second. David went over to the mini bar and said, “Yo, who needs a drink?” and then the girls were no longer in conversation with just each other. Casey said, “Fuck, yeah. Let’s get it, Junie.” David said to Junie, “Don’t you have to go to church tomorrow?” Junie held up her hands in gangster signs and said, “Yeah that’s the way fucking champion beasts roll!” And then Junie and Casey bumped chests and then started laughing and holding their boobs saying that the other’s chest had hurt their own. David watched and poured three shots. Casey and Junie and David took a shot together. Another boy and girl walked in while David and Casey and Junie were taking a shot, and the girl that walked in sort of yelled out, “Who gave y’all permission to do shots without me?” This girl’s friend who was one of the first to arrive let out a high pitch scream when she saw her and then tackled and straddled her. They got up and went to get drinks. Soon there was a drink spilled on the parquet. Soon some of the lights were turned off. Soon more boys and girls arrived. Soon Mac Demarco was switched out for a song about a wet pussy.
Austin Lazodo and Sarah Mitchell came to the party at the same time as Tazaya Felix and Natalia World-Lee. As they approached the door, Austin asked Tazaya and Natalia who they knew at the party. Natalia said, “I’m meeting Alex.” Austin said, “Cool, cool. Do you want me to go find him in there and tell him to meet y’all out here?” Tazaya rolled her eyes and crossed her arms. Natalia gave her a look and then said back to Austin, “That’s ok, we’re here for the party. We’ll just meet him inside.” Austin said, “Cool, cool.” Sarah Mitchell felt protected by Austin. They walked in to see Casey Kelly trying to flip a plastic cup on her back by bouncing her bottom without the cup falling off. They walked in to see Corey and Michaela making out by the fireplace. They walked in to see Thomas and Isaac whispering something to each other and then walking out through a door. They walked in to see four people sharing a bong, the girl who’d taken the last rip coughing and the boy next to her saying, “That’s how you know it’s working.” They walked in to see Alex McGregor playing beer pong with Dakota against two other boys. Alex saw Natalia and yelled, “Celebrity shot from Natalia!” Natalia and Tazaya walked over to the table to talk to Alex. Austin and Sarah went to the mini bar to get drinks. Austin showed Sarah how to pop a beer cap off on the edge of the counter. Natalia missed her celebrity shot.
Alex lost a few minutes later at beer pong and the table was freed up. Landon was next in line to play and announced to the room he needed a partner. Junie volunteered. She knew sometimes what Landon needed was a little bit of fun. Landon was annoyed because he was hoping Stephanie would be his partner but he said, “Ok, Junie let’s get this done.” Junie excited by his excitement said, “Let’s get this done!” and pounded Landon’s knuckles. Landon said to her, “My partners, though, have to level up. Every cup anyone makes on either team—you take a shot.” Landon was messing with her. Sometimes he just liked to see what she would agree to so that he would feel better. For a second he wondered if he could get her to walk around the room naked. Junie said, “Hell yeah! We drink to all victories!” Landon said, “No, just you. I have work tomorrow so you have to represent the leveling up for the both of us.” Junie said, “You got it, partner.”
Eventually the party started to feel blurry to the people there. The people who had gotten high were outside looking at the stars. The people who were drunk were dancing or were sitting and watching the dancing. Casey Kelly had walked out to the pool to see Natalia and Alex kissing. She drunkenly yelled that this was ridiculous. Tazaya had heard the yelling because she was also outside smoking a cigarette. Alex and Natalia walked away, but Tazaya confronted Casey and told her to stop making a scene. Casey said, “Who the fuck are you?” and Tazaya said, “I’m someone who got dragged to this boring fucking party and I’m going to help you out. You need to chill.” Casey scoffed and starting some rambling about how she didn’t need help from some ghetto ass—and then before she could finish her sentence, Tazaya pushed her into the pool.
Casey came up from the water screaming some fuck yous. Tazaya then jumped into the pool, too, cannonball style. Casey screamed, “What are you doing you crazy fucking bitch?” Tazaya filled her mouth with water and then spit it onto Casey like a fountain. Casey was furious and returned the spitting. Tazaya started laughing. Casey splashed her and Tazaya splashed back. Casey looked at Tazaya and said, “I thought black people couldn’t swim.” Tazaya’s eyes got wide and she said, “You’re right I forgot! I can’t swim!” Tazaya swam on her back away from Casey, thrashing her feet so that Casey screamed and covered her face to block the water. Tazaya yelled, “It’s a miracle!” and Casey laughed. In a few weeks, someone would call Casey Kelly a racist and she would tell them that she actually had a black friend named Tazaya. In a few weeks, someone would ask Tazaya to go to another party like this one and she would say no.
Alex brought Natalia back inside through the basement into a side room off the basement where Landon was sitting with Austin and Sarah and David and Seth. They were all giggling. Alex and Natalia sat on a wide seat near the others. Alex said, “What are we up to in here?” David, still laughing, said they were talking about their fantasies and that Seth was a fucking sicko. Seth was laughing with his hands up and said, “I don’t know what the problem is!” David, to fill in Natalia and Alex, said, “I said my fantasy was to have a room of Mexican virgins take turns sucking my dick and like fingering each other and shit and then Seth…” David had to pause to fold over laughing. David continued. “Seth said his ultimate fantasy was to have a girl spread her cheeks in front of his face so that he could see her butthole fart.” Seth, still raising his hands to protest his innocence, said, “To know if she’s real!” They all started laughing but truthfully only three of them found the conversation funny. Sarah was laughing but her attention was on Austin’s hand which was resting on her boob and pinching her nipple. No one was acknowledging it but she was afraid everyone had noticed. They had. Landon got up from the couch and said, “I’ve got the greatest fucking idea. Seth, I’m about to make all your dreams come true.”
In the basement, Landon whispered to Junie to follow him. Junie’s face flushed and she said, “Sure.” She came into the room where his friends were waiting and Landon pulled her down to sit on his lap. Landon said, “Junie we were wondering if you would do something for Seth.” David and Seth started laughing really hard. Junie felt nervous. Landon explained Seth’s fantasy and Junie, who was very drunk, snorted and said, “That’s really weird.” Landon stroked her leg and told her they thought that, of every girl at the party, she had the cutest butthole, probably. Junie said, “Ew! Y’all are gross!” She tried to wobble and stand up off of Landon’s lap but he put his hands on her waist and pulled her back down. This made her feel sick. She had had seven shots during their beer pong game and had already thrown up twice. Landon looked at her and said, “Junie, who else could make this sexy but you?” His hands got tighter on her waist like he needed her. She looked around the room at two nodding heads and four—or was it five—still heads with wide eyes and said, “Maybe later. I don’t feel good right now.” Seth said, “A little toot may help.” Lots more laughter.
Junie got up to leave and Landon said, “There you go Junie! She’s in!” She started to protest but Landon said, “I’ll help you. And pushed her head down and locked it between his legs. Junie was bending over and her trapped head was looking at Seth’s shoes and she remembered earlier in the summer getting trapped under a float at a pool when she couldn’t breath and felt like she might die but she also knew that wasn’t true, that she wouldn’t die and she really just had to wait until a little bit forward in the future when she’d not be under the float and she’d be breathing again. Looking at the mesh under the float was like looking at Seth’s shoes. She hated this moment but a little bit forward in the future it would be over.
Landon lifted up her skirt but Natalia had stood up and said, “What are you doing! Let her go!” Landon was surprised. He let Junie out from between his legs and was looking at Junie with disgust. Junie looked at Natalia and felt thankful but heard Landon mutter under his breath, “the fuck?” and knew she was in danger of falling into the category of things taken away from Landon. A girl standing by the door quietly slipped out. A boy scratched his ankle. Junie mimed a flippant hand gesture and said to Natalia, “Chill. We’re just playing.” Seth pouted and said, “Does this mean no toot?” Natalia was still standing. Junie could feel eyes. She could feel that they were waiting for her to say if it was ok or not ok. Junie said, “Maybe I’ll do it just for Seth in a room.” Landon replied, “And not let me see that ass too?” Junie kind of giggled and once more Landon forced her down between his legs. There were no protests. There was only the image of the mesh of the bottom float at the pool in Junie’s mind and remembering how it felt when she breathed again. Landon lifted up her skirt so that her bare bottom was in front of Seth’s face. Seth pulled her butt cheeks apart and was biting his lips to show the laughter he was holding back. Alex had pulled Natalia back onto the couch.
Everyone’s eyes were on their own hands or Junie’s locked head or the side of her bare butt. Junie felt a little nervous that it would become more than a fart if she pushed it, so she didn’t rush anything. There was a lot of blood in her head now. There was a strain in her hamstrings. There was the mesh of the float. Austin pinched Sarah’s nipple harder. Seth hoped his chill statistics friends had left the party already. It took a minute for the fart to come but then it did. Junie’s butthole flexed and released and then all the boys starting screaming like hyenas. Landon fell over laughing which took Junie down with him. She pulled up her underwear on the floor and tried to laugh too but she felt like a joke. Through their laughing Landon and David and Austin asked Seth how that was for him. He was also on the floor laughing. He said, “It fucking smelled!” Junie left the room.
Junie could feel tears coming and possibly throw up. She went back out to the main party and over to the mini bar and swallowed the rock in her throat with tequila and then five more shots paced poorly throughout the night after that. Back in the side room, Seth, who’d gained a little composure looked at Natalia and said, “I’d love to see a black butthole for comparison.” They all started laughing again and Natalia got up to leave. Natalia couldn’t imagine the soft parts of their ears. Alex flipped Seth his middle finger and followed Natalia out but was smiling as he was shaking his head.
Natalia told Tazaya, who was swimming, that Alex was driving her home. Alex then drove Natalia home and Natalia cried a little. Austin danced with Sarah in the basement. As they danced they kissed and Sarah rubbed her hand on Austin’s crotch. Austin came in his pants and then went home. Sarah decided to sleep at Landon’s house in a corner with a beach towel as a blanket. Others started figuring out where they would be sleeping: on Landon’s basement floor or someone else’s. There were only a handful of houses with parents that were all right with drunk children in their homes.
Landon’s mom wasn’t really one of those parents who was fine with drunk children in her home. She really wasn’t fine or not fine with anything. She felt only soreness all over and the weight of her dead daughter in her arms. Eventually, she stopped hearing the music downstairs. She let hours go by watching the fan and adjusting her eyes to see one blade going around and around or all the blades making one thing at once—a new portal to enter if you went fast enough. Right before the sun came up, she got out of bed and peeked down the basement stairs to look at the teenagers. It was like staring through the window in the hospital where people used to be able to look at all the babies and imagine things for them. She sat on the basement stairs and listened to them breathe and shift around in their blankets and sleeping bags. She heard the vent in the bathroom making its ticking noise and crept down the stairs to close the door so none of these babies would wake up. Inside, Junie Gunn was asleep leaning against the toilet. There was bruising around her neck where it had been resting against the toilet. She was sitting in her own urine. Junie had not asked for help. She had gone to sleep feeling afraid but also feeling that this was what this time in life was about. She had gone to sleep feeling afraid but also knowing that she was the only one at the party that could make a fart sexy and reminded herself that she would probably be recognized in the morning as one of the ones who went the hardest and even though it hurt a little it would be something that would precede her at future parties and people would know she was for real about fun. Boys would fist bump her in the hallway and think to themselves, “She really is that thing that she says she is.”