Father Matthews impatiently scrolls through last year’s Christmas concert photos on his phone. The blue light from his device reflects off his clerical collar, dimly illuminating the confined confessional closet walls. Light rainfall can be heard trickling off the church roof onto the sidewalk outside. A collection of altar boys change the pace of his scrolling as he nervously pauses listening for the presence of another. Not a peep from the pews, he eagerly zooms in while his pupils dilate against the brightness like a reflecting pool at the shallowest depth of an abandoned wishing well. Abruptly, the church doors open. Father Matthews fumbles his phone to the ground; it audibly bounces on one corner eventually landing flat, screen down. Embarrassed, he twiddles his thumbs awaiting the first confession penitent. As the door closes behind them, drops of water crash onto the service room floor. They’re still. Father Matthews stool creaks as he readjusts his seating position. Finally, the footsteps slog forward bit by bit. Eventually making their way to the confession booth, Father Matthews can barely make out what seems to be a small child’s bare feet outside the red curtain draped over the parishioner’s entrance. They wait; wet and cold, sporting and a pale blue complexion. Drops of water fall from their shivering chin echoing through the vacant chapel. They enter.

Silence resides from both parties as Father Matthews awaits the child’s plea for forgiveness. There’s nothing. The quiet hovers overhead, it’s deafening; unfair even. Father Matthews starts to take a breath about to address the child as they promptly begin sobbing.

“Speak, child,” Father Matthews starts.

“Forgive me Father,” he whimpers in pain.

“Proverbs 28:13 tells us whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy,” Father Matthew recites.

“Confess, and you’ll find mercy,” he commands.

“You first,” the boy’s tone shifts as he begins to snicker.

A thick bubbling mixture of blood and fecal matter begin to ooze between the cracks of the confessional partition. The boiling excretion eats through the faded wood panelling underneath Father Matthews feet as his phone vibrates wildly. Reaching for his mobile device the boy on the screen menacingly cackles as he warps into that of demonic proportions. His screen shatters, shooting glass shards into his eye sockets and neck.

An overwhelming sense of panic takes over Father Matthews while he pulls his feet up from the vanishing floorboards. Reaching blindly around him, the vulgar concoction singes his hand and continues devouring the flesh making its way slowly up his arm as he begins to beg for help.

“Help! Somebody,” he screams.

In aims to stay alive, he carefully lowers one foot towards the floor. Immediately, the rubber sole of his shoe smolders adding the stench of burnt rubber to the already unbearable aroma.

“Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name,” he begins to pray.

His stool creaks as the structure begins to crumble around him. He quickly shuffles to the furthest edge of the booth bringing his knees to his chest and resting his head against the wall.

“Thy kingdom come, thy will be done,” he continues between spouts of crying.

The boy continues to heckle the priest’s anguish and sorrow laughing at his despair.

“Enough!” Father Matthews shouts.

Barreling both feet through the remaining wall of the booth he crashes through the other side hastily pulling himself through. Landing face first onto the cobblestone service room floor he turns in pain underneath the stained glass portrait of Daniel in the Lion’s Den.

Outside, the storm passes and although Father Matthews has been blinded, he can feel the warmth from the sun shimmering off the blood dawned upon his cheeks. The antagonizing simmer of flesh eating sludge fades as it descends into Hell through the pit it created. Grateful to be shown mercy, he takes a breath in coughing as he exhales. The phone from his office begins to ring.

Picking himself up, he wraps the remainder of his sleeve around the open ended limb that once was his right arm. The insufferable pain brings him to his knees as the wound squelches against the gritty fiber and rotted flesh. Nauseous, he rests his forehead on a pew bench vomiting profusely onto the floor. The answering machine from his office picks up.

“Father Matthews?” a woman questions, seemingly distraught.

“It’s Diane, Samuel’s mother,” she states.

Father Matthews lifts his chin in terror.

“He killed himself last night,” she says, barely keeping herself together.

Father Matthews acknowledges the irreversible damage he has done as his tears pool alongside his chunder in a pattern that imitates the evil and ugliness of an early painting by Adolf Hitler.

“Did he say anything to you during choir practice last night? Please, give me a call when you can. Bless you Father,” she concludes.

“I’m sorry,” he begins to apologize.

“Forgive me, Father,” he pleads.

His office phone rings once more. Each ring pokes further into him as he continues a blubbering mess surrounded by unoccupied pews. Voicemail picks up.

“Hi, Father Matthews? This is Father Jefferies from Second Light Ministries, I’m calling to let you know that your transfer request has been accepted. Let us know when you can start, I know moving can be quite the task but it seems by now you must be a professional. Eight different congregations in the last decade alone? Impressive. We’re eager to serve beside you, blessings to you Father,” he finishes.

© John Marrows All Rights Reserved

“Quiet,” they bark at the boy chained to the corner of the room.

His face dawns blood, dried upon his cheeks, welled from his recently emptied eye sockets.

“Momma,” he cries.

“I said quiet, boy,” they demand once more.

“You don’t want me to kill her, do you?” they threaten, hovering a peculiar knife over a corpse.

Their hinged blade punctures through the vessel’s torso, the blood collects along the edges of the observation table trickling down into two separate oak barrels. Wax melts onto the cold concrete floor as candles dimly illuminate arcane symbols hastily scribbled on the cracked stone walls. Poorly secured shelves present mason jars like trophies containing a variety of liquids and herbs preserving indistinguishable monstrosities. Thin twine hangs severed fingers over the boy’s head accompanied by chimes made with empty bottles filled with teeth like some sort of nightmarish crib mobile. A gust rushes through the corroded steel barred cellar window. The witch is still, they place the blade aside admiring the crescent moon’s pleasant shift from a calming cool blue to a warm orange hue. Revealing themselves from the darkness, their flesh is torn almost down to the bone, their face is mostly burned making their jaw the only distinguishable feature, and their figure is as fragile as the crystal glassware scattered amongst the cellar tabletops.

“It’s time,” they say.

The witch gathers a candle, their spellbook, and a copper goblet reforged by thirteen generations of blacksmiths belonging to the Paladins of Criafar. Placing the candle in front of the boy, they kneel lighting it ceremoniously. The boy quivers, whimpering before the presence of the witch who mockingly smirks at him turning through their spellbook with intent, and pleasure, to harm him.

“Please,” the boy starts.

“I just want to see momma,” he pleads.

“Don’t worry,” they scoff.

“You will,” the witch whispers into his ear.

Rising, they grasp the goblet with purpose, presenting its copper casing towards the moonlight revealing a hidden text that glows a similar orange tinge. The text is illegible however symbols throughout match those drafted amongst the walls. The witch submerges the goblet in one of the oak barrels, filling its contents with blood. The blood bubbles for a moment, further highlighting the goblet’s engravings. The witch indulges themselves by inhaling the steam as if it’s a warm cup of cider on a gloomy fall afternoon. The bubbles settle and the glow fades as the witch again approaches the boy. The boy continues to whine as the witch begins to gently caress his cheek.

“Shhh….there, there, boy,” the witch consoles him.

“Where’s momma? Is she alright?” he stammers.

“Momma’s resting, dear,” the witch answers glancing over at the corpse on the table.

“Momma, momma please,” he continues.

As the boy continues to call out, the witch forcibly tightens their grip on his jaw. Mouth agape, he pulls against the steel restraints, pleading for freedom. The witch ignores his requests, raises the goblet to his lips and looks towards the moon.

“Under the moon, that’s been set ablaze. Over the boy, with a stolen gaze. Consume the blood of this bastard’s creator, for life will be restored near death, but no later,” they read aloud.

The witch pours the boys’ mothers blood into his mouth, he quickly begins to choke on its thick consistency. Coughing up blood onto himself, the witch tosses the goblet aside and proceeds to close the boy’s mouth and clasp his nostrils shut.

“Swallow it boy,” the witch commands.

“Don’t you want to see momma?” they ridicule as the boy’s limbs writhe within the shackles.

Unwillingly, the boy swallows his mother’s blood. The witch holds him a bit longer enjoying his struggle, eventually tossing him back to the corner. On his hands and knees, the boy gasps for air in between dry heaves. The witch waits, staring attentively. Suddenly, the boy releases an otherworldly screech, stretching his limbs as far as the restraints will allow. He collapses. The witch draws nearer, optimistic. Immobile, the boy’s body lays lifeless on the cellar floor amongst a puddle of his blood and urine.

Anxiety overcomes the witch as they straddle the boy’s corpse. Eyeing the window, the moon begins to slowly return to its original temperate blue color. Rushing towards their spellbook, the witch begins to doubt themselves frantically sifting through the pages, carefully reviewing the ritual once more. Shackles begin to rustle behind them, relieved they grin turning towards the boy who gradually awakes. Stretching his arms out, he rubs his eyes, immediately realizing his vision has been restored and his wounds have been healed.

“It worked!” the witch exclaims.

Now aware of his surroundings, the boy’s quick session of relief swiftly shifts to panic as he witnesses his mother’s body sliced open on the table presenting her organs to the nauseating, musty cellar room.

“Momma,” he shrieks.

“Momma, wake up. Momma, please,” his cries fade as he’s brought to his knees in exhaustion.

The witch makes haste as the moons shift is imminent. Retrieving the tossed goblet, they submerge its now empty basin into the other oak barrel presenting it to the night sky. The boy sobs as the witch knocks back a glass of his genealogy. After the final drop passes down their esophagus, the witch drops to their knees, raising their arms to the stars, presenting their whole being to the changing night sky.

“Yes, yes, yes,” the witch moans as pain passes through their body.

The boy watches in terror and confusion as the witch’s empty flesh pockets fill with white skin that shines against the stars, lushes dark brown locks flow from their once rotting scalp, and their eyes become once more, filled with life. As if a pig is being massacred, the witch expels a hellacious screech. The boy covers his ears before the witch eventually collapses and begins to convulse.

Reaching for the candle still lit in front of him, the boy leans in for a closer look as the witch’s convulsing starts to seize. The boy’s panicked breathing gently pushes against the candle’s flame. Their body is still as the crickets accompany the winds whispering through the chimes above his head. Suddenly, the witch awakes forcefully grabbing the boy by his throat, then pleasurably inhales through their restored anatomy as the boy begins to gasp desperately.

“Mmm, you have your mothers eyes,” the witch mocks, tightening their grip.

Hot wax drips between the boys loose grip of the candle. Singing the edge of his palms, he releases the open flame onto the witches tattered robes; it ignites. Unaware they’ve been set ablaze, the witch cackles as their fingernails dig into the boy’s skin. His blood runs down their hands, his eyes wide; they kiss the boy on his forehead tossing his defeated corpse back into the dark corner of the cellar.

The witch turns towards their spellbook salaciously licking the boy’s blood from their fingers. Kicking another lit candle over, the flames begin to travel up their robes quickly disintegrating the worn fabrics. Sprinting towards the well, the witch leans over the cobblestone casing, pulling the rope to retrieve the bucket from below. The witch is able to douse themselves as infernos consume the tapestry, the bodies, eventually reaching potion vials filled with flammable contents. The witch turns and makes haste for their spellbook however the flames envelop any viable path. Escaping with their life, the witch hastily makes their way up the cellar stairs. Smoke rises to the night sky while ashes scatter amongst the desolate woods. 

First light approaches, as hikers come across the warm embers and debri.

“Look,” one says sifting through the ashes.

“What is that?” the other questions as they uncover a textbook.

The spellbook and copper goblet present themselves…unharmed.

Cover Art: Joy Marino (@joymarinoclicks)

© John Marrows Some Rights Reserved

Consider helping me deliver more content: https://www.patreon.com/imarrowsj

DISCLAIMER: The Gatekeeper, and characters surrounding this series, are works of fiction. They bear no relation to actual persons and are not to be associated with the author’s sexuality or gender identity.

TRIGGER WARNING: Throughout this series, there will be instances of homophobia, transphobia (including use of dead names + incorrect pronouns), sexism, verbal/physical abuse, domestic abuse, suicidal ideations, self-injury, and dysphoria. If any of these topics have proven to be harmful to you as a reader at any time, please continue with caution. The author’s intention is NOT to upset readers but to shed light on unfortunate circumstances that may still occur today for our LGBTQIA youth.

Remember that you are not alone. If you are a young person in crisis, feeling suicidal, or in need of a safe and judgment-free place to talk, call the Trevor Lifeline at 1-866-488-7386. The Trevor Project has trained counselors that are able to support you 24/7. Also available to assist you through online chat and text.

Standing proudly atop the jagged cliff edge, Warrior Orion gazes upon the tormenting labyrinth deep within the Valley of Shadows. Staff at hand, he takes in the mountain air knowing his journey will be risky and arduous. Committed to retrieving the rose-tinted ruby he once strung around his neck by a thin reddish silver chain fashioned with the blood of his tortured mother, Orion will let nothing stand in his way. Deceiving in its layout, legend tells that the labyrinth holds many of trials for any adventurer to brave. Each corner holds the extremes of any climate; from the scorching, driest deserts to the most frozen, dead winter tundra. Warlocks, Cutthroats, Paladins, and Necromancers shroud themselves throughout the thickening labyrinth walls awaiting to challenge any intruders. However, perhaps the most wicked being lurking amongst the harrowing groves may not seem so harmful a first glance, but don’t be fooled. The Gatekeeper takes no prisoners. This murderous flesh splicer arms himself with a rusted sickle stationed in a sheath hewed by the scalps of his victim’s firstborn children.

Approaching the entrance, Orion smugly eyes the towering walls of the labyrinth.

“Well…,” The Gatekeeper begins.

“Who are you, demon?” Orion demands, holding his axe at the ready.

“Demon, well that’s a first,” he scoffs.

“I am The Gatekeeper,” he humbly replies.

Observing the rose-tinted ruby tucked within his pelt lined with infantile skulls, Orion raises his axe asserting his stance.

“Ahhh…if the ruby is what you seek, best not be tongue and cheek. Time does not exist within these walls. Nor age, nor pity…nor mercy. Through frigid winds, scorching sands, and humid jungles, those before you have underestimated the challenges these climates present. So…I implore you, I entreat you, I dare you; enter through the labyrinth gate, but save your breath, and accept your fate. For there is no light…only death awaits,” The Gatekeeper threatens as the corroded gate creaks opening behind him.

“Your threats are empty, demon,” Orion confidently sneers.

“You would be so surprised, warrior. Some who claim their path is light, spout darkness in pursuit of deceit,” The Gatekeeper warns.

TAP. TAP. TAP.

“Closer now warrior,” The Gatekeeper strikes the steel bars with his sickle teasing Orion.

KNOCK. KNOCK. KNOCK.

Orion forcefully shouts towards the sky beginning to charge the entrance as The Gatekeeper begins to fade away.

BAM. BAM. BAM.

“Sweetheart? Ori, honey? It’s mom, are you almost ready?” Orion’s mother knocks outside his bedroom door shouting over the power metal blaring inside.

“Ugh!” Orion groans slamming his composition book shut opening his bedroom door holding his flannel closed, sporting basketball shorts and long socks.

“Mom, I thought we talked about the whole ‘sweetheart’ thing?” he replies.

“I know. I know. And I’m sorry but your father is already waiting in the car. Humor me for a minute, will ya?” she continues.

“Ok, but I’m not wearing this,” Orion grabs a black sheath dress presenting it unamused.

“Look, you know I’m on your side here,” she begins, pretending she didn’t see the ace bandage tightly wrapped around Orion’s chest.

“…and if your father wasn’t running the ceremony, of course, I’d want you to wear whatever you’d like, but I just, I can’t…help me, help you,” she bargains.

“Alright, alright. I understand,” Orion agrees aware of the potential chaos rebelling can concoct when it comes to his father.

“Give me three minutes,” he sarcastically smiles.

“Okay sweetheart,” his mother accidentally replies immediately beginning to apologize.

“Mom! Ugh!” Orion shuts the door.

“I’m sorry. I’ll be in the car, love you, Ori,” she shouts through the door.

In front of the mirror, Orion takes off his flannel revealing his homemade binder. Attempting a deep breath in, he flexes his biceps releasing the air with a confident smirk.

Glancing at the sheath dress, his cheerful grin wilts. Disappointed, he turns the mirror around, regrettably slipping into the dress.

BEEEEEEP.

Orion’s father impatiently lays on the horn in their driveway.

Reaching for a couple of pens, one black, and one red, Orion grabs his composition book swiftly making his way down the stairs.

“Sorry dad, had to finish up a few things,” Orion apologizes buckling his seatbelt.

“I understand that this may be a difficult time for you, but I have a duty to serve. Not only my family but also my community. Do you understand that?” he irritably spouts from the driver’s seat.

“Yes, sir,” Orion reluctantly replies eyeing his mother in the passenger’s seat with her head down.

Entering the labyrinth, Warrior Orion confidently marches into the unknown. He turns back as the gate closes slowly behind him. Three corridors present themselves, each as seemingly distant and eerie lined with dead trees, hazy air, and moist crumbled stone walls. No end in sight. However, the entrance of each path is marked by freshly slaughtered creatures hung by stakes punctured through their backs angled up to pass through their chest. Their blood puddles underneath their defiled carcasses releasing a wretched stench. An anaconda, a sheep, and a young boy present themselves like trophies murdered by The Gatekeeper himself. Taking one step closer, flames burst from under each of them. The boy awakes in a panic writhing in pain attempting to pull himself from the wall. Orion hesitates, unsure if he’s able to assist the boy.

AHHHHH.

Placing both hands on the wall behind him, the boy screams in excruciating pain pushing his body up the stake. Just outside his reach, the boy fails to free himself accepting his fate as his body descends back down towards the cold stone wall. The flames grow higher closing off each entrance, Orion must decide as the boy’s skin begins to bubble.

Approaching the boy, the flames seize, and the other two paths grow over with barbed vines.

“Who did this to you?” Orion questions as the boy struggles to breathe between the pain.

In hopes of comfort, the boy looks to Warrior Orion in his final moments.

“Darkness falls to those who give in to the labyrinth, light is rewarded to those who triumph. Go, warrior, show no mercy,” the boy softly replies as his body collapses over the stake lifeless.

“Are you ready?” Orion’s mother says standing at the open car door.

With a simple nod, Orion exits the vehicle onto the cemetery grounds. Chin down, he follows his mother towards the ceremony, his father already beginning to speak at the podium. The temperate September air playfully sweeps the remaining leaves aged and fallen in beautiful yellows, oranges, and reds. Snowy mountain tops line the distant horizon proceeding the rolling hills of wheat fields already harvested and awaiting the return of spring. Orion rubs his bare arms as goosebumps form.

Orion stands uncomfortably amongst the few in the crowd finding it difficult to focus. Sora wasn’t the closest friend, but he was amongst a handful of outcasts in Orion’s school. After he came out, his friends started drifting apart and even their parents asked them to stay away. His mother sits emotionless, disappointed even. Rural America, somehow moving forward, yet stuck in its traditional roots. Small minds gathered with a collective ignorance stewed within religious hierarchy’s, comfort in the familiar, and fear of change. Your roots either take to the soil in which you’ve been planted, or you make way and uproot to something bigger and better.

“As Gods children, we are made in the image and likeness of Him. This responsibility deserves a certain amount of dignity and respect. One of the first commandments we learn in scripture relates to the understanding that you should not take the life of a human being. We do not have the authority to give ourselves life, nor do we have the authority to take that life from ourselves. God shapes lives through suffering. Our lives are not in our hands,” Orion’s father shares.

“Lord we ask that you take this boy, that you remind him of your eternal sacrifice. Romans 6:23 states ‘For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord’ Amen,” he concludes.

“Amen,” the few reply as Orion stands upset but silent.

Onward on his path, the fog thickens as Orion ventures deeper into the labyrinth. A great distance in without a turn, sign, or even sound, he begins to question his choice in direction. Lowering his weapon, the warrior’s axe strikes the ground somewhat crumbling the asphalt underneath his feet. Curious, he taps the ground once more; the earth begins to tremble underneath as Warrior Orion stumbles a bit. With one last determined swing, Warrior Orion crashes through the floor falling violently to the caverns below. Immediately standing to his feet, Warrior Orion grabs his Axe circling the hollows in a panicked defense. The dim light from above fades as the ground reforms above him. The gentle dripping from the narrow pipelines echo through the seven corridors. Warrior Orion’s boots slosh about in water filled with rotted remains, stumped limbs, and bloodied shreds of garments. A gentle wake pushes against his ankles coming from one of the passageways littered with empty bottles and molded scraps of sustenance. Warrior Orion grasps both hands readily around the handle of his axe preparing to contest whatever comes his way.

“Looks like it might rain soon,” Orion’s father states looking to the sky as he drives attempting to unwrap his fast-food hamburger.

Orion sits quietly in the back seat staring out the window.

“You know, I was surprised that Sora’s father wasn’t there,” he continues in aim to spark conversation.

“Did you talk to his mother, Oriana?” he adds in between bites.

Orion ignores his father.

“Sweetheart, hello?” he persists.

“Please don’t call me sweetheart,” Orion answers.

“Why not? You’ll always be my sweetheart, our sweetheart. Right, honey,” he pleasantly smiles looking to his wife.

Orion’s mother uneasily smiles towards her husband as he grabs her hand with his greasy palm. Looking back towards Orion she mutely empathizes with her son. Orion clenches his fists, then takes the pen from behind his ear opening his composition book.

The wake strengthens as the creature draws nearer. Its back surfaces only a moment presenting crimson spotted sores wading through the refuse then disappears into to the shallow muddled water. Warrior Orion combs the murky puddle around him with his axe. There’s nothing. He looks once more, squinting down the shadowed tunnels as more water begins rushing in from every direction.

Lifting his axe, the water level rises rapidly past his waist, then his shoulders. Suddenly, the Cesspit Gar sinks its teeth into Warrior Orion’s leg. Collapsing, he takes a panicked breath in as the gar pulls him under dragging him to the bottom. Jousting his axe into the gar’s mouth, he attempts to break free, but its grip is unwavering. Releasing his axe, Warrior Orion clutches each end of the gar’s long snout, and with a forceful heave, he unhinges the impressive clutch the hideous creature has upon him.

Snapping wildly back at him, Warrior Orion grabs ahold of the primitive beast keeping his head away from its many rows of barbed teeth. Wrestling against him, the gar manages to plunge them both to the nethermost region crashing Warrior Orion to the seafloor.

SNIP. SNIP. SNIP.

The gar frantically bites around Warrior Orion’s death grip on its neck. The creature’s sores begin to secrete an acidic ooze burning through Warrior Orion’s hands.

SNIP. SNIP. SNIP.

Persistently nipping, the gar knows its ooze continues to eat away at Warrior Orion’s flesh. Desperately scanning the depths, debris and human remains scatter the grimy, muck covered sands below. Amongst the rubble, the blade of Warrior Orion’s axe teases him.

SNIP. SNIP. SNIP.

With a hole blistering through the inside of his palm, he knows he hasn’t much time. Releasing his grip on the creatures third strike, its nose buries deep into the sand as Warrior Orion rolls to the side hastily reaching for his axe.

“You alright Ori?” Orion’s mother asks as they pull into the driveway.

“Yeah. I’m fine,” Orion answers a bit disorientated, arm already extended to the door handle.

“Right, hope you brought your umbrella ladies. It’s really coming down out there,” Orion’s father expresses taking the last sip from his soda cup. The kind of sip where you know there’s nothing left, but you keep sucking the straw because the annoying noise it makes.

Orion caps his pen, clutching his composition book close to his chest making his way inside.

“Wow, do I got mustard on my mustache?” Orion’s dad asks jokingly.

Orion’s mother shakes her head, then exits the vehicle swiftly running to the door.

“Oh, come on,” his dad starts again shaking out his umbrella by the front door stepping inside.

“She knows I would’ve shared the umbrella, right?” he states.

“Are you that dense?” Orion’s mother replies.

“Excuse me?” he retorts.

“You embarrassed that boy and his family,” she starts.

“What are you-,” she barrels over him.

“That poor boy took his own life and you said those awful things. Awful, awful things. How could you do that?” she adds passionately.

Orion moves to the top of the stairs listening in.

“I was doing my job,” he sternly answers.

“No. That’s not your job. Your job is…” she’s at a loss for words.

“To inform the people of His word?”

“The kids dead,” she jumps back in.

“He’s dead Martin, and you just fucking spit all over his grave-,“

BAM.

She falls to the floor as he hits her in a spout of anger.

“How dare you speak to me that way?” he continues, looming over her as she crawls back into a corner.

Loosening his belt, Martin continues to pursue her.

WHACK.

She shrieks in pain as he hits her with a sinister grin stapled across his face. Orion jumps, cringing to each crack of his belt.

WHACK.

Her cries are almost silenced by her agony as she lies helpless on the living room floor. He winds up for another swing.

The gar pulls its head from the crusted seafloor, approaching in a rage.

WHACK.

Warrior Orion slams the blunt end of his axe into the gar’s bloodthirsty eyes, then pushes from the bottom eager to resurface. With an exasperating gasp for air, Warrior Orion swims down another path through uncharted waters and unknown remains.

To be continued…

© John Marrows All Rights Reserved

Consider helping me deliver more content: https://www.patreon.com/imarrowsj

Within this blog post, I’ll be discussing the creation of the short story series All My Friends Are Freaks. The significance of each of the main characters; Ethan, Twitch, and Annie will be outlined alongside a drafted map of the behavioral health center with actual photos from inside the facility! Additionally, I’ll be responding to your questions from the All My Friends Are Freaks Q&A.

SPOILER ALERT: The information within this post may reveal important plot points within the series. If you haven’t read them yet, I’ll link all three parts below. As always, they’re FREE to read!

PART ONE: All My Friends Are Freaks

PART TWO: All My Friends Are Freaks: Part Two

PART THREE: All My Friends Are Freaks: Part Three

Let me share some initial thoughts before I get rambling about the infamous children’s unit veterans; Ethan, Twitch, and Annie. All My Friends Are Freaks has been a culmination of personal perseverance, reliving unfortunate traumas, and balancing the right mix of reality with fiction. I felt like I was there, every step the veterans take on and off the unit. Putting myself back in those hospital socks wasn’t something I was comfortable doing at times, but boy howdy did I enjoy fighting for these characters and I’m hoping you did as well. Again, just wanted to say thank you to those who sent in questions either in person, Instagram, Twitter, or wherever. Thank you to all my readers!

ETHAN

In the original first draft of All My Friends Are Freaks I wanted Ethan to seem like life on the children’s unit was just another day. Moving forward I found him to best to represent the struggle many of us have to fight to belong, even when our peers respect us for who we are. Our anxiety spikes when we’re put under the spotlight, unable to perform mundane tasks, such as Ethan buttering toast like in part one. Ethan is the friend who constantly tries to show you that he cares to the point where it annoys you. He’s the friend that needs a reminder that he’s doing great things and you appreciate his presence. The friend who almost always says he’s “fine” even with a black eye and a bruised abdomen.

TWITCH

Mason Gatto AKA Twitch is a twelve-year-old foster child living with photosensitive epilepsy. Twitch’s experiences and motivations closely relate to my own. This character was intended to mirror my own struggles and triumphs within the behavioral health care system. Part two took a ton of self-exploration and putting myself back into moments where I was most uncomfortable, very vulnerable, and extremely malleable. I’m sure many artists and writers go through this process and if you have, I value and appreciate your courage to do so. There’s not much more I’d like to say about Twitch, but if you have any further questions feel free to reach out here or on Twitter and Instagram: @iMarrowsJ.

ANNIE

The character basis for Annie, as mentioned in my twitter feed a while back, is closely resembled by a close friend I had in one of these facilities growing up. She’s headstrong to a point of stubbornness and will do anything for her friends. In reality, she was, much like many others who frequented these facilities, a self-injurer that was prone to cutting. After a particularly stressful evening at home, she coped by cutting and unfortunately sliced through a major artery in her wrist eventually passing from blood loss. If you’re unfamiliar with self-injury, specifically cutting, those who use this unhealthy coping mechanism are almost never trying to end their lives, the bleeding releases endorphins which helps the body deal with pain and stress. I do NOT condone this method of coping and recommend if you are cutting to seek assistance from a trusted friend and/or adult. Regrettably, around this age, I was unable to truly grasp the meaning of our friendship as we both were attempting to navigate our own challenges. Later in my teenage years, a few of the other “veterans” and I grasped the harsh reality of her untimely death and were able to grieve appropriately.

If you or someone you know is suffering and believe to be using self-harm as a coping mechanism Text CONNECT to 741741 to speak anonymously with a crisis counselor.

If you are feeling suicidal, please know that you are not alone. You can call the Trevor Lifeline at 1-866-488-7386, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or the Suicide Crisis Line at 1-800-784-2433.

Behavioral Health Center

Although an actual facility, I believe keeping its name and location redacted is definitely called for. The images listed below are stills illustrating the portions of the children’s unit. More specifically, the day room, nurses’ station, and a few extra things I’ll be sure to point out.

The Unit

Nurses Station AMFAF FILTERED

Pointing out a few things mentioned in the series. The nurse’s station where Twitch and Annie swiped pens from with the surveillance feed where Annie and Ethan watched Twitch noggin clock that MHW in the nose in the quiet room.

Surveillance Feed AMFAF FILTERED

The infamous magnetic locked double doors on the far left.

Double Doors AMFAF FILTERED

And of course…the observation windows into the day room with the bolt locked door that leads outside.

Outside Door AMFAF FILTERED

Unit AMFAF FILTERED

From the entrance of the double doors, a front view of the nurse’s station.

Patient Charts AMFAF FILTERED

Pointing out the patients’ charts tucked behind the nurse’s station where Annie and Twitch read through Ethan’s chart in part three.

Reader Q&A

Why is it called ‘All My Friends Are Freaks’?

All My Friends Are Freaks is ultimately for those who not only don’t fit the ‘typical’ label of society but also tend to be cast out because of their differences. Whether that be from their abusive past, their mental illness, or just their will to persevere…to survive. I’ve found that within the walls of behavioral health centers, especially if there’s a children’s unit, you’ll find hurt, shamed, abused, broken people; but you’ll also find a unique collection of people who actually understand the pain you’re going through. They get it. If you’ve ever said “you wouldn’t understand” to anyone, truly believing that you’re alone in your struggle, All My Friends Are Freaks is for you. It’s for us.

Why short stories?

Working mostly in the seasonal employment industry, I understand that time is valuable. Especially your downtime. I wanted to give my audience the ability to have a “full” read experience within twenty minutes to a half-hour. Specifically, with the All My Friends Are Freaks series, breaking it into three parts made drafting the change of POV’s smoother than attempting to squeeze them all into one piece.

Will all your works be short stories?

No. In fact, I’ve been drafting my first horror novel for about a year now. (More on that later.) Also, I have plans to pitch plays I’ve written to alternative theater companies around the US.

Why does Twitch only cover one eye in part three?

Twitch has photosensitive epilepsy and there is a reflex for some that when introduced to a potential trigger (flashing lights, fireworks, lightning, etc.) they will cover their right eye averting their gaze. For most individuals that are photosensitive, they tend to avoid situations where these triggers are present altogether. However, each individual could have different triggers with varying intensity of seizures.

Wait…is Twitch dead?

You tell me.

Would you consider writing an extra part from an external perspective like an MHW or Dr. Shaundry?

Yes and no. If this ever reaches a larger audience that calls for this, I’d love to come back and write a “special edition” sort of post.

Would you like to see your series adapted to film or television?

Hell yeah! Honestly, I’d sell this to a media outlet in a heartbeat under the stipulation that I’d be working closely with the writers. Keeping the characters accurate and true would be a priority as they’re important to me…and also me. Ha-ha.

How much of this is a blend of your own experiences with fiction?

Fantastic question! I’d say most of the “experiences” up to Samuel attacking Ethan at the end of part two sum up the non-fiction aspect. Although, not as “storybook”, the small things are what really made part one and two connect with my life. I remember being that kid in and out of hospitals and the MHW’s remembering my face, what my triggers were, plus the things I could get away with and how to help those new admittances cope with being in unfamiliar, and often uncomfortable, territory.

And yes…the Salisbury Steak is really that nasty. Ha-ha.

Once again, I’m hoping you enjoyed reading this series as much as I enjoyed writing it. Thank you to all my readers!

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