Contained in my skeletal fist was the one sentence with
the power to ruin my young life. Clenching the paper
maliciously, I attempted to wring the very letters from the
page when I became startled by sharp, contemptible
bursts of laughter from the two despicable little girls in
front of me. Cautiously, I rose from my seat.

Wobbling like a carnival merry-mixer, the school bus
barreled down the sinuous, unpaved rural road while the
girls—pallid sisters with tangled, oily brown hair—
continued to giggle incessantly. Careful not to dislodge
my wide incisors against the rigid tan seatback, I peered
down at the unkempt pair. Then, just as I uncovered the
alarming line of text that I assumed had been fueling
their squeaky hysterics, the bus pitched awkwardly
toward the right and I grimly crumpled into the padded
vinyl seat all the while denying the urge to gather my
knees under my chin.

Autumn had yet to reveal her supple hues across the
Susquehanna River valley, and I patiently respected her
secrecy. Though entering into just my tenth fall season, I
had already amassed a few delicious secrets of my own.
Yet, unlike the eagerly awaited eruption of patchwork
foliage, one particular revelation was neither favorable nor
welcome. In all fairness, I suppose it would be
particularly dishonest not to admit that this same secret
remains by far my cruelest shame.

Based upon these early assumptions that no living
person could truly relate to my experiences, my self-
denial has long sheltered me from that burdensome
phase of my life. I suspect that such self-imposed
prudence is commonplace for all persons with histories
in espionage as well as the clandestine recipe holders of
the corporate confectionary industry. Don’t be fooled by
the hat and bumpkin blue plaid shirt; Little Debbie would
definitely slit your throat before giving up the ingredients
to her succulent Oatmeal Creme Pies.

Just three short years before, I had merrily begun my
fearless covert exploits. Creeping through the darkened
house between the hours of bath time and bedtime, I
dutifully guarded my family from the unseen boogiemen
lurking within the shadows. Though I lacked what some
might consider necessary fundamentals like an official
costume, the ability to scale walls, or wrist-mounted web
spinnerets, I wasn’t completely without resources in their
most rudimentary form.

I owned, for instance, a red t-shirt and a pair of snug-
fitting blue underwear with a red elastic waistband. On
occasion—usually during the brisk winter months—I
wore a blue beach towel as a cape. And, for protection, I
brandished a plastic neon green flyswatter which I would
securely shove into the tight front fly of my underpants
until needed.

Within my meager costume, I mustered the confidence
necessary to sweep into each darkened bedroom to
stealthily ensure that every closet remained ghoul-free.
At least three times a week—sometimes more,
depending on when Mom washed my laundry—I
completed my nightly vigil with little notice or fanfare
from either adult inside the house. Though, at the time,
my parents had become completely preoccupied with
the new addition to the family: my attention-hoarding,
diaper-loading, earsplitting, baby sister, Kara.

Nightly for nearly two weeks, my relatives piled into their
dented pick-up trucks to make the forty-minute journey
to our house to gawk and fawn over the baby while
absently interrogating me with joyfully inconsequential
redundancies like, “How does it feel to be a big brother?”
and “What do you think of your baby sister?”

Not one of them, however, seemed all too concerned to
hear my answers. I guessed that it was difficult for them
to focus on me when they could be so easily entertained
by the profound magnificence of her festival of perpetual
drooling.

Such visits were typically highlighted by someone
forcing me to hold her for impromptu photo opportunities;
I knew these shots would be lovingly tucked into the
coffee table photograph album somewhere before the
snapshots of the most recent John Deere exhibition but
well after the valuable pictures of a tongue-lolling dead
buck splayed across the hood of a 4x4 like some low
rent, bikini-clad model with cotton candy-styled hair from
a vintage muscle car magazine.

During these treasured moments of sibling bonding, Kara
cheekily trumped all of her more precious feats by
basting me in a tepid marinade of sweet-smelling, milky
vomit. I despised the embrace of the chilly wet clothes
as they adhered to my flesh like a clinging bloom of slick
green algae from the local pond. Naturally, the relatives
adored Kara’s little routine and became impatient with
me if my justified outrage was judged as too severe.
Unbeknownst to them, I had already experienced this
revolting sensation within an entirely different venue
altogether.