Greg Burkholder


Raysor watched the boy pound his fists against the walls of Uncle Rich’s shed, while thousands of spiders crawled up his legs, biting his flesh as he wailed. The boy looked like Raysor. He had the same acne filled face, bulging eyes, and fractured, pasted together skull. Snakes coiled around his ankles as the boy kicked the door and jiggled the lock and screamed but nobody outside could hear him. The walls closed in and blood trickled from the ceiling as shrill, inhuman laughter wrapped around the boy’s neck. Sweat poured down his face and the boy began to weep and weep and weep and cry for someone, anyone to come help him.

Raysor’s eyes shot open and he bolted up in his sleeping bag. He laid among candy wrappers, stacks of video games and crushed soda cans on his cousin Josh’s floor. He gasped for air as moonlight flickered through the curtains. Josh snored.

He peeled the sleeping bag and blankets off his body and crept to the window. He stared at his uncle's shed, bathed in opaque moonlight, sitting so silently and peacefully in the backyard. He stared until his eyes blurred. He had thought there was something strange about that dumb shed. He never saw anyone go in or out of it and whenever he and Josh played in the backyard Josh wouldn’t go anywhere near it. Once, overcome by curiosity, Raysor asked his Mom what was in there, and she acted all weird and told him not to worry about it, to stop being so nosy. Now he knew why.

He knew adults were scared of boys like him but he didn't know it was this bad. Whenever an adult sees his bulging eyes and his wide, Martiany forehead their eyes fill with disgust and fear like they think he’s an actual alien. When he tries to reassure them by explaining that he just has a facial disorder called Apert Syndrome they just turn a sad, quizzical gaze towards his mother, shaking their head. If a boy so much as jokes around with him, calling him a ugly or fish face, an adult will materialize out of thin air to berate the boy and haul him away before Raysor even has a chance to think of a good comeback. He figured this was as far as the adults disgust and fear went. He never thought that adults could stoop so low as to actually imprison people like him. He knew what he must do. He must rescue this poor boy who the adults have locked away. The adults wouldn’t get away with this any longer. Not while he's around.

He tiptoed to the door and curled his webbed fingers around the handle and tried to open the door as quietly as possible. The hinges groaned like an old man complaining about all the adolescent bodies that had been hurled into it. He peered over at Josh who snored open mouthed, spittle dribbling from his chin.

He slipped into the the pitch black hallway and crept past Mandy’s door, plastered in pink stickers and posters of One Direction. Uncle Rich’s bedroom was in the basement, right below the endless wood grain ocean of the kitchen floor. The wood slats moaned like hell spawn in a freezer and Raysor had to creep over this floor to reach the backyard, somehow without waking Uncle Rich. Uncle Rich would devour him (with ketchup and everything) for stealing oatmeal cookies so Raysor couldn’t imagine what unspeakable horrors would happen if Uncle Rich caught him in the act of unspooling the dark secret he and all the adults hid. Raysor really didn't want to become a delicacy.

He hitched up his socks made the sign if the Father the Son and the Holy Ghost across his heart and slid across the floor like a figure skater. He was certain he heard something, a shudder, a creak of the steps, and froze in his tracks. He watched the stairwell leading to Uncle Rich’s room for what felt like an eternity. When no one came to gobble him up, he began breathing again and clicked open the screen door lock with clammy fingers. Its echo reverberated into the seven heavens and the hells below. He didn't understand how human made object could be so loud.

His heart hammered as he pried open the thick sliding door inch by infinite inch. He peered around watching for the glow of lights and craned his ears to listen for the sound of cocked shotguns or clinking dinner forks, or the squelch of an opened ketchup bottle.

He saw nothing and heard nothing and as he slid the door open almost enough to slip through, he smiled. He was actually going to pull this rescue off! Dumb adults. He wondered if a newspaper would write an article about his heroic deed. Naw, probably not. Nobody really cares about Apert syndrome. It’s not one of the cool kid disorders that has fund drives, pink ribbon bumper stickers and awareness marathons. He didn’t care, though. He wasn’t doing this for glory, but because it was right.

"Ray-Ray?" a hushed voice said "What are you doing?"

He whipped his head around. Josh’s sister Mandy stood in the doorway of the bathr

oom, eyes bleary and hands on her hips. He didn’t know what to say. Telling her his plan to overthrow the conspiracy her dad was wrapped up in was out of the question. She might be in on the plot. She slid closer to him.

"Why are you going outside?"

"Shh!" God, she was so loud.

She cupped her palm over his ear. "Why are you going outside?" Her voice tickled.

He nudged the door open a little more.

"If you don't tell me I'll scream." she said.

God. Girls. Always ruining everything.

"I’m investigating ok?" he said.


"Ohmigosh come on." The possibility that she was a spy for her parents was high. Very high.

"Tell me! Or I'll yell!"

"I want to see what your parents are hiding in the shed, OK? Jeez."


"I had a dream."

"Right. How do you plan on getting in dummy?"

"What do you mean?"

"Its locked duh."


"Boys are so stupid. You don't even know where the key is. Do you?"

He grit his teeth.

"I know where the key is." she said "I'm coming along."

"I don't need help."

"Uh yeah ya do"

He paused. Having an assistant, especially one that knew how to get into the shed without causing undue noise would be invaluable. If she turned out to be a spy he could just steal the key then lock her inside.

"Fine. Don't be weird though."

He slid the door open enough so they could both squeeze through. They shimmied through the opening into the backyard. As they trudged up the hill she whispered in his ear.

"We are gonna get in so much trouble if we get caught!" her breath was soft somehow, like marshmallows or something.

He didn’t respond. He waited in front of the shed while Mandy fetched the key. The aura of evil and sadness was thick around the place, tree branches dipped low and their branches traced figure 8’s on the shed roof and ghosts flitted between the leaves. Moonlight glinted off the dust caked windows. He swore he heard screams or murmurs or something.


"Got the key." she said "Dad keeps it under the bonfire pit rocks."

"Just open the door."

"You're so pushy jeez."

As she turned the key in the lock, dream fragments cascaded in front of his eyes. The other Apert boy wailed and fought off spiders as hellbound creatures poked their arms through the floorboards trying to drag him underground. Raysor’s teeth chattered and his hands shook. Maybe this was too much. He was just a kid after all and if they are really hiding some kind of hellpit or Apert boy back here, he really shouldn’t be stomping up to it in the middle of the night. Prickly regret flooded his body. But before he could tell Mandy that this was a bad a idea, that maybe they should turn back, that yeah he was an idiot and pushy and he's sorry she turned the key in the lock. The shed door swung open.

"There!" she said "What would you do without me?"

The open door showed only shadows. A black hole about to devour him. His legs felt glued to the ground. This was definitely a mistake. He felt if he went in he wouldn’t be the same again. Something evil and foreign lurked in the darkness, a force that overwhelmed his own understanding.

"Silly! Why are you just standing there like a doofus! Come on!" she grabbed his hand and led him into the all enveloping darkness. Her fingers, slim and soft, felt somehow safe as the sweat poured off of him even more so than usual.

She fiddled around in the darkness until he heard a grunt and click. A dangling light bulb showered the room in swaying light.

His eyes slowly adjusted to the swinging light and he saw bikes stacked in the corner, a workbench, piled high with tools and the dust of being unused for years, a pile of inflatable toys with holes in them, buckets, a broom that maybe looked like a witches broom, maybe, and some kind of large tire. He dropped Mandy's hand.

"Boy you sure do sweat a lot." she said, wiping her hand on her pants.

"Part of my syndrome."

"Your syndrome thingy is really cool. Besides the gross sweating." she grabbed his fingers "You look like a merman!"

"Let go!" he said, ripping his hand away.

"Wow! Now you don't wanna hold my hand huh!"

He poked around the room pretending to be investigating but the abject evil that had permeated this place had already vanished into the cool night air. He breathed a sigh of relief. Or disappointment. Or something.

The door slammed and Mandy buried the key in her pocket. A dark gleam swirled in her eyes. It dawned on him that the dream wasn't a dream at all but a premonition. As Mandy strode toward him, he understood that it would be him locked up in the shed for the rest of his life, his ugliness hidden from the world's tender eyes. His mom wouldn’t object because if he wasn’t around, she wouldn’t have to drive him to any more surgeries or pretend to be proud when she hung his school portrait on the fridge or or field all those pitying, fearful looks from other parents or worry that his skull might collapse at any second.

His heart raced and he looked around the shed for a weapon. A bike spoke maybe. He could gag her with one of the deflated inner tubes but her lips were already on his. She pressed him against the wall and her tongue pranced on his lips. He isn't sure but were those stars swirling around his head? The shed swayed to some silent music and she put her hands around his waist. Her lips were silk and her hands melted around his hips and it feels like they had been kissing forever but yet not at all like forever when she finally pulled back. She blushed.

His eyes pushed the laws of physics to their utmost limits by bulging even more than usual. They silently stared at each other, two thrumming bundles of frayed nerves and rattled hearts.

She lowered her head then tumbled down the hill toward the house. She slammed the back door. A light flickered on in Uncle Rich's room.

He stepped out of the shed, forgetting to close the door, forgetting the dumb thing even existed and watched her shadow flit behind the swaying curtains in her bedroom window, wondering what she was doing, what she was thinking and how he could get in there. He stared until his eyes blurred.


Greg Burkholder is from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. He currently lives in Maine. He has Treacher Collins Syndrome and is daily astounded by how handsome he is. He's been published in a couple journals and hopes to bind his fiction in a collection soon!! And he loves you.