A single light, swinging back and forth in the darkness. I feel woozy, lightheaded—like I just woke up from an eleven-month nap. For once, juicey is the furthest thing from my mind. I go to pick my nose, but my hands are bound by…pipe cleaners?

“What’s the matter, Charlie? Feeling a little fuzzy?”

It’s Big Luke.

“Get it? Wordplay? Wordplay, that was, I just learned what that was today. Anyway.”

I was confused before, but now I’m really lost.

“Where am I, Luke?”

“That’s Big Luke to you, Ransom. And that’s information I don’t think you need to be privy to. What’s important is that you listen to me, right now.”

I’m suddenly aware of a couple of mouth-breathers kneeling to my left and right.

“I didn’t realize you hired glue-eaters to do your goon work, Luke. Too busy to do it yourself?”

“You like to laugh? That’s good, that’s real good. ‘Cause, y’know, my boys love to make people laugh.”

I like to push this guy’s buttons—though, honestly, I’d go through a lot just to indiscriminately mash buttons on anything—but something doesn’t feel right, like that time I ate a bunch of candies out of Daddy’s nifty orange candy holders and threw up all rainbow-like.

And suddenly I feel the light brush of a feather against my bare left foot. I gasp.

“Hey, whoa, Luke, what’s this about?”

“It’s Big Luke, Ransom, and don’t make me tell you again. Why don’t you tell me what it’s about? Why might you find yourself in such a nasty predicament today?”

Another quick ruffle of a single feather, this time against my right foot. Good god.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Big Luke grins. “I was hoping you’d say that. Boys?”

What followed can’t really be described. I’d been tickled before, a little horseplay, y’know, Mommy and Daddy getting some roughhouse in before I hit the hay, not a second after 8 p.m. But if this business has taught me anything, it’s that if you want to do anything real, you might find yourself on the wrong end of the feather sometimes, and that’s OK.

But this wasn’t just one feather. This was whole goose’s worth of feathers, more feathers than the Geneva Convention allows. This was inhumane.

He made me wet my pants. I swore those days were over, but here I am, just a week later, the drip-dropping of shameful pee-pee hitting the floor. I was laughing so hard I would’ve thrown up, too, if the big cheese hadn’t ordered his chalkboard-lickers to stop.

He hit the light. All was dark again. He whispered in my ear.

“Listen to me, and listen to me good, Ransom. I don’t want you snoopin’ around no more, I don’t want to hear nothing about no tricycle, and I don’t want you to ever, ever step into the Dirty Diaper again. Comprende?”

Before I could answer, I was waking up back in my bed.

Could it have been a dream? I lift up my covers to check.

Nope.



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