Short Fiction: Neg Bog

It was a nonsense phrase; utterly meaningless. Yet everyone who tweeted it out or posted it to Facebook or anything like disappeared . . . if they didn’t apologize.

Carter Flannigan hadn’t apologized for posting it. And Jazmine Hernandez hadn’t heard from him in two days.

She tried texting him again: “Carter, it’s Jazz.  Really worried about you.” This time she didn’t call him “hon” or punctuate her message with a little heart. He’d have to know that meant she was super concerned . . . wouldn’t he?

Jazmine set her smartphone on her desk next to her keyboard, her computer humming quiet and low. The machine was a beast, powered by a water-cooled multi-threaded processor with dual GPUs and enough RAM to open thirty browser tabs without crashing. Three quad k zero bezel monitors, side-by-side, enveloped her like she was Batman. Batgirl, more like. Batman had been her favorite superguy when she had still been a guy herself.

She waited, tapping pink lacquered nails on her solid oak desk. They clacked too loudly for her liking, as though her small bedroom in her small Seattle apartment had become some place where human-made sounds did not occur. Like a tomb.

The phone remained stubbornly inert.  

And then it did buzz, dancing on her desk like an angry bee. Jazmine jumped, her heart pounding. She fumbled a few times before she could unlock the home screen. 

“Carter!” she said!

“Don’t I come up on your caller ID?” came Booster’s laconic Midwestern drawl. “I’m hurt. But whatever. You’re not my type.”

“You mean hot?” Jazmine said, punctuated by a nervous laugh.

“No. I mean . . . look. Jazz. Carter will show up. You know him. Probably going on one of his Internet detoxes or something. Now, I’m calling ‘cause–”

“He always announces it,” said Jazmine. “Makes a video or something. And he still gets back to me.”

“Well that’s different, because he never gets back to me.”

“Do you think the urban legend or whatever is true?”

Booster paused. Like her, like Carter, he was another free-speech absolutist. Unlike her, Booster and Carter were more on the right. But they shared a common reverence for America’s founding principle and the freedom to think and say whatever they wanted. But Booster, apparently, didn’t have the guts to say that phrase over the phone. “You mean N.B.?”

“Don’t tell me you’re afraid too, Boost.”

“I’m not afriad, but I’m not stupid. Dill tweeted it out, remember, and–”

“He apologized!” Dylan “Dill” Prescott was another high-profile YouTuber and streamer in their sphere who had been one of the first to tweet out neg bog. And then he got swarmed. And then he quickly apologized–a pretty damn debasing apology that spanned nearly fifteen tweets–and afterwards, the swarm left him alone. Just like it left everybody else alone after they apologized. “That’s what bugs me, Boost: Carter never apologized.”

“Oh for–it’s a hoax, Jazz.”

“Then say it.”

“No!”

“If you’re not afraid, say it, Boost!”

Booster said nothing. 

“So you’re afraid,” said Jazmine. “Well, I’m not. They can’t touch me.”

“Jazz!” Booster snapped. “Come on . . .”

“No. I’m a half-hispanic trans liberal. Anyone who knows me knows I’m not racist. I’m incapable of being racist by their own definition. I can say it.”

“They’re listening!” 

“Who? NSA?” Jazmine snorted. “Those assholes. What’re they gonna do, disappear me? How do you think that’d look in the news? Fuck them. You think this ‘neg bog’ rumor is true.”

“God dammit, Jazz!”

“What? I said it in context.”

“It’s like the n-word!” said Booster. “Context doesn’t matter! Christ, it’s not the 70s anymore.”

“I’m not going to cower in fear, Boost. I’m going to live my principles. Like Carter. I think you should too.” She put her sneakered feet up on her desk and pushed so her chair swiveled around. “Where are your balls?”

“Least I got them still,” said Booster. “I’m sorry. That was mean.”

“It is, you asshole. But I still love you.”

“I love you too. Jazz, we still have to make a video for today.”

“I know.”

“He’ll turn up, Jazz. The whole thing . . . it’s bullshit.”

“Okay.”

“You didn’t say ‘I know,’ Jazz.”

Jazmine sighed. “I know.”

* * *

The day’s episode of American Awesomeness was spirited and fiesty. Jazmine was heated, spitting truth like a fire-breathing dragon melting the mindless orcs of collectivism. She was the left-leaning one, and Boost was slightly center-right, but together they made one formidable defense of civil liberties and constitutional rights.

The day’s theme was self-censorship, the woke corporations who have taken over an authoritarian government’s role of enforcing speech codes and thought policing. “That’s America’s great innovation!” Jazmine told her 23,000 viewers. “We’ve privatized the oppression business! We’ve outsourced the state’s role as morality police to unaccountable multinationals, and both our elected representatives who promised to protect and preserve our liberties, and our press, our ‘watchdogs of democracy’”–here, she made theatrical finger-quotes–“do nothing.”

“Worse than nothing,” Booster intoned, nodding his head and taking a small sip from his ever-present mug of black coffee.

Jazmine used his prompt as a springboard for another righteous rant. “Worse than nothing! They’re complicit! They want this! They like it! They’re either bought-off or are totally rooting for it so that when, the revolution comes and the tanks are rolling through Washington, they’ll be put into positions of authority.” She had snapped and flipped her hair, going into full angry Latina mode. “Let me tell you, honey: it don’t work that way.”

It might be gauche to brag, but the show was fantastic. They generated over five-thousand dollars from Super Chats, and the comments section was a hive of lively and reasoned debate crossed with unrelenting trolling, that particular mix of intellect and autism that only the Internet could provide.

Still, something was missing. The third-leg of their stool, the Holy Spirit of their Trinity, if Jazmine could be so blasphemous: Carter. He was a take-no-prisoners right-wing nationalist who thought Jazmine was a mentally-ill abomination, but he never treated her with anything but respect, and he truly lived his principles. If Jazmine had a dollar for every time she’s had to help bail Carter out, pitch in for his legal defense, or set up a crowdfunding campaign for the same, her financial woes would be over. 

And then came neg bog.

* * *

The show over, Jazmine removed her headphones and slumped back in her seat, the adrenaline of her two-hour performance flowing out of her like a cool morning mist burning off the mountains at dawn. Whether it was more postprandial or postcoital, she couldn’t say, but Jazmine felt as though she could sleep for hours even though it had just turned three in the afternoon.

They hadn’t mentioned neg bog on the stream. It was at Booster’s request, and with Carter seemingly MIA, Jazmine was in no mood to rock the boat too much. It felt like a cop-out because it was, but she could not lie and say she wasn’t on edge either.

She stood, feeling the satisfying pops in her back. Yoga had been helping, but she spent so much time in a chair that, no matter how comfy and expensive that chair was, all the sitting was murder on her body.

Her room was a mess. A pile of dirty clothes mingled with clean lay atop her rumpled pink comforter and on a basket against the wall. There were empty Chinese food containers and a half-empty bottle of merlot on a small table under her window. Worse was Chessie’s empty bed lying on the floor next to hers. The little Boston terrier had died last week and Jazmine still couldn’t bring herself to pick up his things . . . if she did, it would almost make it feel like Chessie had never existed.

That’s what it felt like ignoring Carter, too.

She should clean it, because she spent the vast majority of her time in this little room even though there was a whole other apartment out there, but she couldn’t stop thinking about Carter. Couldn’t stop thinking about neg bog. It was a splinter in her mind that she could not ignore.

Even if her brain had objected, Jazmine still wouldn’t have been able to fight her body as it sat back down at her computer. 

* * *

Neg bog. Called “the n.b. hoax” by most people online. Telling: Even when calling it a hoax, detractors don’t spell out the entire phrase.

“The Newest Right-Wing Boogeyman!” blared a headline on one popular and venerable left-wing website. “A Secret Phrase That Will Put You On A List . . . Or Worse.” And yet they didn’t spell it out either. 

Liberals, it seems, didn’t get an n.b.-pass.

Neg bog. It burst into the public consciousness three days ago. Thousands of Internet edgelords tweeted it. The death threats came immediately. Nasty death threats. These didn’t all look like anonymous sock-puppet accounts either–there were some big-name, big-follower users and even some blue checks in there.

Neg bog. A stealthily racist term. Not all those who tweeted it were white. And not all those who responded were people of color. 

The hours ticked by as Jazmine read story after story about the neg bog phenomenon, read dozens of articles reproducing entire tweet threads of the victim du jour who had dared blast out the phrase and the concomitant responses. Jazmine noted with a cynical amount of glee that these publications even blurred out “neg bog” as if it were a slur on par with other taboo slurs.

Maybe it was, for all Jazmine knew. Maybe it was the worst thing anybody could say, ever, to anyone who was not straight or white. 

The pattern was always the same. First, responses came urging the tweeter of the forbidden phrase to “Be better,” or expressing dismay that “Really? You went there?” in equal measure. The timestamps were within seconds of each other, sometimes dozens of replies at the same time; Jazmine could only imagine what a mess they made of the recipient’s mentions.

And then they grew more disturbing. Case in point: The article which published a sampling of responses to Carter’s neg bog tweet, amusingly titled “Far-Right Alt-Right Neo-Nazi White Supremacist Does Exactly What We’d Expect Him To Do”–ignoring the fact that his girlfriend Chontice is black–depicts such unique and healthy exercises of one’s right to free speech such as “u messin where you dont belong white-ass motherfucka,” “white boy about to get pounded,” “say goodbye to ya girl’s pussy motherfucker,” and the like. Some were more erudite, but those were interesting only in their bland conformity to the same template: You don’t understand your privilege, you have a lot of learning to do, and you’ll be sorry.

The doxxing came next. Jazmine recalls seeing those with horror, the pictures of Carter’s house, the publication of his phone number and address, Chontice’s contact info, even his mother’s. Jazmine told Carter to contact the authorities. Carter blew her off. “Why? They won’t do shit.”

He wasn’t wrong. But Jazmine’s efforts to encourage Carter to at least create a paper trail were ignored. 

Soon, the threats got too graphic for even the news websites and the culture blogs to reproduce. Knives, guns, armed men and women with their faces masked in threatening poses posted with Carter’s address and telephone number. Naturally, this was fine with the various Internet platforms who controlled nearly every aspect of digital life in America. The oligopoly was a great friend to have if you played by their rules. Or enforced them.

For others who had succumbed to the temptation, who had blasted “neg bog” out into the ether, the apology came next. Jazmine noted with sardonic pride that Carter had been the only one not to apologize. 

The mea maxima culpas disturbed Jazmine in a different way. Whether posted in writing or as a video, the language and mannerisms were those of zombies in a hostage video, humiliated, demoralized zombies.

“Hi. My name is so-and-so and I used to be a white supremacist/racist/neo-Nazi/alt-right troll. I also used to believe that free speech came without consequences. Recently, I participated in a disgusting/wrong/racist/insensitive online trend. I did not realize how hurtful words could be/that words are violence, but I have been educating myself and listening to the voices of people of color [ignoring that many who tweeted the verboten words were themselves not of European extraction] who have set me on the right path. I plan to heal the damage/pain I have caused, and learn about the lived experiences of marginal voices. To that end, I’ll be donating [insert large sum of money] to [some political cause or activist group] so that we can progress as a nation,” blah blah blah. 

Or some variation on the theme. Jazmine just hoped they people forced into such groveling apologies had a good set of kneepads and a weak gag reflex. 

This was strange enough, but what really set Jazmine’s curiosity alarm into flaming blaring overdrive was that nobody seemed to know how the whole neg bog thing had started. But Jazmine wanted to. She needed to, the way a man lost in the desert needs water. That compulsion had been a constant companion in her life. Journalists were notoriously lazy, incurious hacks directed from above to craft the narrative of the day; this was a bitter fact that a good left-winger like Jazmine had to swallow like particularly nasty medicine, but swallow it she did. It didn’t kill her faith in humanity, just in that particular profession. And it made her vow to do a better job than any of them.

The mainstream stories blamed “the chans” or “the boards” for the whole neg bog thing, but that didn’t sound right. Why would the last remaining bastions of free speech and unrepentant shit-posting devise some scheme to identify those of a similar ideological bent? It made no sense. But like so many things in this hyper-fast, attention-deficit world, the squirrel-like focus of all the very online people didn’t lend itself to deep thought.

That’s where Jazmine came in. 

She had never gone to journalism school. She actually went to college for English on a Lacrosse scholarship when she was still a he named Jose Fernandez. Her major changed along with her gender early her junior year, and she emerged as Jazmine with a degree in history. And one thing a history degree taught you to do, one of the only valuable things in Jazmine’s estimation, was to seek primary sources.
The problem was, when it came to neg bog, there were none.

* * *

It was ten to midnight now. The only lead Jazmine could find was a person deep on the boards calling him-or-herself GroypWretch. He-or-she had an anime avatar and not a frog. It was Yuki from Wolf Children, a normie-tier choice but Jazmine still approved. 

It didn’t matter much. GroypWretch would only respond to Jazmine’s inquiry about his last post from four days ago with a terse message telling her to get fucked like the disgusting trap she was.

Okay then. Jazmine had been called worse. It still, but not as much as messages exhorting her to kill herself. Hanging out with enough right-wingers like Carter Flannigan had inoculated her to such insults only up to a point; it would be nice to be treated like a human being by everyone. Someday.

That last posting from GroypWretch was a cryptic warning that “Something big is coming, something that’s going to put everything we’ve done to shame. Next day or two. Set your watches.” Tellingly, there were no further replies on the thread, nor could she find any utterance of neg bog. It seemed that the spectre of the attack swarm had silenced even les enfants terribles of the Internet.

But it wasn’t going to silence Jazmine. Not anymore.

Lying in bed, the glow of her smartphone bathing her face in 400 to 500 nanometers of unhealthy blue light, Jazmine, with her heart beating and her mouth gone dry, tweeted the following:

“Fuck it, I’m not afraid. Ready, everybody? Here we go: 

Neg bog.

Sucks when a tranny has more balls than you tough guys, doesn’t it?”

It took severe mental energy to scrape together enough willpower to shut her phone and not immediately refresh the app and check her mentions, but the sleep Jazmine got that night made such a heroic sacrifice worth it.

* * *

Jazmine Fernandez, Free Speech Warrior, host of American Awesomeness, and she of over to 500,000 followers, was well and truly frightened. 

She walked surreptitiously through the most touristy, most heavily trafficked part of the city she could think of: Pike Place Market. It was late morning and she had just bought some candied nuts from a vendor near the entrance. His stall was next to a fish seller whose proprietors were doing that fish-tossing thing out-of-towners loved. This particular group were Chinese, no longer sticking out for the masks they wore as they pressed flesh with the locals. 

Turning away from the aerial fish, Jazmine hurried up some stairs, intending to buy a cold brew and sit at a table near as many people as current social distancing practices allowed. 

She’d woken up around seven; earlier than normal, but she felt as though she’d emerged from a long hibernation. That good mood did not last when she turned on her phone. The last vestiges of sleep shimmered and faded as sunlight hit her eyes, along with the sense that yesterday had been the dream. 

The number of texts waiting was beyond comprehension; Jazmine never knew her phone could handle that many messages. 

She ignored them and went to her voice mails, scrolling down past dozens of numbers she did not recognize until she found Booster. Ignoring his message, she tapped the “Call back” button and waited for his familiar drawl.

“Jazmine, fuck! Goddamn what the fuck?”

“Good morning to you too?”

“Are you all right?” Booster was frantic, his voice a scratchy shriek. 

“Yeah, just woke up. You saw it?”

“Did I see it? The fuck is wrong with you, Jazz? God damn it, you apologize right now! It’s not worth it!”

“Slow down, and don’t yell at me,” said Jazmine. She hated how her voice devolved into nasally uptalk when she was agitated, but Booster was being unfair. 

“Grow up,” Boost spat back. 

“No, you grow up, and grow a pair while you’re at it. Do you want to find out what happened to Carter or not?”

“He’ll show up. He’s just, you know, being Carter.”

“Oh yeah? Have you gotten in touch with Chontice?”

Silence. And then: “No.”

“Me neither. Even Carter’s parents are freaking out now.” Her hand went to her lap, where Chessie used to sit when she’d talk on the phone, ready to pet the dog that wasn’t there. “This is different. This is wrong.”

“Did you talk to Dill, Jazz? Did you check with him?” When Jazmine, embarrassed at failing to follow up on the most obvious lead, said nothing, Boost went on. “I did, okay? Want to know why he apologized?”

“Why?” said Jazmine, her voice a petulant shadow of its usual clarity.

“Because they sent him real time screenshots of himself. From his webcam. Motherfuckers got into it somehow, saying all sorts of crazy shit like ‘We know where you live’ and ‘You’re gonna pay,’ all of that stalker stuff. This isn’t a game , Jazmine. Apologize, or I swear to God . . .”

“You swear to God what, Boost? What? You’re going to, I don’t know, make an example of me? You’re an atheist, anyway–”

“Skeptic!”

“Oh, same thing.” Jazmine waved a hand. “This is the only way I can figure out where Carter is. Trust me, Boost. I got this.”

“Just be careful,” said Booster. He sounded deflated, his fury replaced with concern. “You need me to come out there? It’s only four-and-a-half hours from Indy to Seattle.”

“You’re sweet, but no. I’ll be fine. Trust me: they can’t touch me. I’m too . . . how do you always put it?”

Booster laughed; it felt good to hear that. “Demographically dense.”

“Right. I’m too demographically dense for them to do anything without serious blowback. Don’t worry about me, Boost. Worry about Carter.”

“I am, Jazz. I am. Trust me.”

“And you trust me. I’ll let you know if I need anything.”

“Okay Jazz, sounds good.” She heard Booster exhale heavily. “Just, please do me a favor and don’t check your mentions.”

They hung up, and Jazmine checked her mentions.

* * *

Condensation beaded on Jazmine’s glass of cold brew. It felt good against her forehead, a small way to fight back against the summer heat. If only she had a way to fight back against the torrent of hate, real hate, directed her way.

The responses to Jazmine’s neg bog tweet started out in typical concern troll fashion: “Oh no, not you too”; “Don’t tell me you’re one of them, Jazmine”; “Please reconsider this tweet. Sincerely, someone who respects you and your work.”

They were mostly from people she did not know, accounts she didn’t think she’d ever interacted with in her life. Many were blue-check accounts, officially sanctioned and authorized movers and shakers in the political and cultural spheres actually taking an interest in Jazmine.

And then, as was the pattern with the neg bog Internet swarm, they got worse.

“Ur dead cunt,” read one of the milder messages. “I know Rodney your doorman,” read another, “$500 says he lets me into your place you evil racist piece of shit.”

“Kill yourself trannie.”

“Gonna chop your balls off, whore.”

“Fuckin racist freak.”

“You are dead. You hear me? Dead!”

“The only place for racist white bitches is in the grave.”

“Got somethin with ur name on it,” coupled with a picture of a large, black gun. There was another with a similar message coupled with a picture of a large, black cock.

It was demonic. Jazmine was too smart to believe in God, but she sure believed in evil. She looked surreptitiously around the coffee shop. It was crowded, giving her some anonymity, but Jazmine couldn’t escape the feeling that several sets of eyes were focused on her.

It’s only online, she told herself. The Internet isn’t real life. The same shibboleths she told other culture warriors when their hearts wavered and they faced doxxing or cancellation. Jazmine should follow her own advice . . . but she didn’t think any of them had experienced anything like this.

Dylan. Dylan had.

Fingers shaking, cold brew with organic cashew milk left undrunk, Jazmine called Dill, praying to some undifferentiated being, or the universe, or whatever, that he’d pick up.

“What’s up?” Dill barked in his brusque, New England accent.

“Dill, oh God, it’s . . .” How could he not know? Dill was one of the most plugged-in out of all of them. “Dylan, I tweeted it.”

“What?” 

“You know the . . . the words, Dill. That you did.”

“Well, you have to apologize now.” He sounded calm and confident. That was what Jazmine needed now.

But she would never cave in to the mob. 

“I know I should, Dill, but . . . but they win if we do.”

His next words were enough to stun Jazmine into utter speechlessness. “They already have, Jazz.”

How could he say that? What does he mean? That stands against everything–everything–we’ve ever fought for. 

“I’m telling you, you can’t fight this, Jazz. Don’t bother.”

“But it doesn’t mean anything, Dill!”

“Doesn’t matter.”

“Yes it does, Dill! Words have meaning, Dill! This matters!”

She was crying, and her voice was loud enough to elicit looks from several patrons. Jazmine wiped runny mascara with a finger and turned towards the window. The sight of Puget Sound calmed her, and though having her back turned to the room was scary, she could at least see the rest of the shop reflected in the window. “I even called the cops because the death threats–oh God, they’re bad, but of course there’s nothing they can do . . .”

“Apologize and move on. You’ll be fine. Look, I know this is wicked hard for you, but you won’t lose a goddamn thing by apologizing. It sucks, Jazz, but it’s for the best. I want you to still have a career, you know?”

“How . . . how will I if I cave?”

“You’re not a coward, come on! We all know that.”

“Who started this?”

“I don’t know.”

“Why are they doing it?”

“I don’t know, Jazz.”

That’s not good enough!”

The coffee shop went silent. Jazmine could feel the weight of eyes on her like a funeral shroud. She stood and left, the cold brew in its clammy plastic cup still on the table.

“Miss, you forgot this!” someone called after her as she ran down the steps to the street, intending to head down Alaskan Way to Waterfront Park, but turning down Union Street to her apartment instead.

Jazmine should take an Uber, but what if the driver had it in for her? 

Paranoid! I’m going crazy! Talk about losing it. But she would take no chances. “Carter’s still missing, Dill. Have you heard from him?”

“He should’ve apologized.”

“What’s wrong with you?” Something felt off. This wasn’t like Dylan. He was just as combative as Carter, maybe not as ideologically rigid but he could certainly go toe-to-toe with Carter on the “pugnacious asshole” scale.

“Nothing, Jazz. It’s just I’m too smart to risk everything for some abstract principles. If we’re the only ones playing by these fuckin’ rules, then what’s the point?”

“I don’t . . . I’m gonna go, Dill.”

“Want me to come keep you company?”

“You’re in Boston, Dill. It’s . . . it’s fine.” In truth, Jazmine didn’t trust him, but now she did feel like she’d be safer with someone else by her side. Maybe she’d call Boost and see if his offer still stood. “But thank you.”

“Okay, but if you change your mind, let me know.”

“Thanks.”

“And Jazz . . .”

Jazmine swallowed hard. “Yes?”

“Just apologize. Before it’s too late.”

* * *

She did not apologize. No, that wasn’t Jazmine’s style. Neither was sitting on her bed, huddled in a ball and crying, wishing against all hope that this stuff would just somehow go away. 

It would, if she apologized. But then she’d forever be known as a hypocrite who gave in to the outrage mob, and that would be worse than all the scary online abuse.

Almost.

How could she sleep? There was no way she could sleep. But she couldn’t go outside either. It felt so strange, but she wasn’t safe out there. Anybody on the street could . . . what? Be an agent? Be some sort of secret morality police who would get their pound of flesh for Jazmine’s blasphemy against the pieties of the day?

It was ridiculous. But those threats were so raw, so real. Stupidly, she unlocked her phone and scrolled through them again:

“Damn TERF ruining the world for trans folk and people of color.”

“. . . knife fit up your fake snatch . . .”

“. . . what your head look like on my mantlepiece . . .”

“. . . never seen a tranny bleed before . . .”

Jazmine let out a strangled cry and threw her phone across the room. She had a weak arm, and it thumped lackadaisically against the white-plastered wall before falling into a pile of unfolded clean laundry lying in a basket. 

It felt better getting rid of the device, like a weight had been removed from her heart. Jazmine fell back down in bed, her hand reflexively going once again to her stomach, where Chessie used to sleep, before she finally drifted off into a deep, dreamless sleep. 

She couldn’t say how long that dreamless sleep lasted, but it had to have been at least six or seven hours, since the light coming through her blinds was not sunshine, but street lights. 

Jazmine blinked, her eyes gummy. She’d fallen asleep in her contact lenses, but that was a small price to pay for some honest-to-goodness rest. That was what she needed. Her mind was clear and she could think once again. She could utilize her famously logical and analytical brain which had made her a maven of the YouTube world.

Her bedside clock told her it was past midnight; she’d slept much longer than expected. Whatever. When your brain and your body told you they needed rest, you’d better listen. 

But the late hour gave Jazmine serious misgivings about the knocking at her door, soft but insistent. What the hell? she wondered. Was it Boost, doing that annoying thing where he’d have GrubHub deliver her a pizza or a burrito in the middle of the night from halfway across country? Was he trying to cheer her up? Or was it something else?

Come on, Jazz. Don’t be paranoid. Internet randos love threatening dissenting thinkers. This’ll all blow over and make a great story. Neg bog doesn’t mean a thing. It’s an urban legend. Dill just chickened out for a moment. There’s nothing to worry about. 

Except Carter was still missing.

“Coming,” Jazmine called, pulling a bathrobe over her rather slinky pajamas and grabbing her purse from the table near her apartment’s front door. 

“Open up, Jazz,” came a voice from the other side.

“Dylan?” Jazmine tried to pat her hair down into some semblance of order as she fumbled with the locks on her door and pulled it open without bothering to look through the peephole.

With a sinking feeling, she wished she had. It was Dylan, but he was not alone.

“Told you I could make it here quickly,” Dylan said, tapping an aluminum baseball bat against an open palm. 

“Dill, what . . . who are they?”

Behind Dylan stood four of the strangest people she’d ever seen: a scrawny black teenager wearing a black belly-shirt and thick problem glasses; a morbidly obese white girl with dyed pink hair and matching lipstick; a muscular woman with a shaved head, black lips, and spikey jewelry; and a doughy, balding white guy with a scraggly beard and food stains on his t-shirt. Like Dylan, each carried a baseball bat. Like Dylan, each had a strange smile and a look of murderous glee in their eyes. Not just glee–something else. Something metallic, almost golden . . . 

“You should’ve apologized, Jazz,” said Dylan. He stepped into the apartment and raised his bat.


I also write novels: check out The Last Ancestor here.

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