by Jose Mojica
Let's face it, Herb was fat. He was thirteen and he was big. Not exactly Michelin
man big, but a close relative, a cousin maybe -- you could definitely see the
resemblance. And the seatbelt was killing him. He'd been wearing it for nearly
fourteen hours. It made his stomach look like a human white cell engulfing a
His skinny, soon-to-be sixteen-year-old sister, Fran, was surely having an
extremely-cool-to-the-max trip. Or so she had said non-stop since they had left.
Not him. He'd had to go to the bathroom six times already and each one had been
followed by a lecture from his mom. The first lecture had been about how eating
vegetables and fruits, instead of Quarter Pounders, was good for the digestion, and
the last one had been about how with gasoline prices so high, it would be nice to
cut down on any extra weight.
Fran had been kind enough to add, "Don't you want friends for once? If you don't
care about your reputation in school, at least think of mine."
She also got to sit in the front the whole way.
The only one here who liked him was his five-year old sister, sitting next to him,
Beck. But she didn't speak much. Not because she'd had some type of speech
impediment, or because she'd gone through some horrible childhood experience.
Speaking just wasn't her thing. Her thing was smiling. She'd had a big smile
from the second Herb first saw her when she came home from the hospital.
Of course, Fran said Beck only smiled like that because she was stupid. "Stupid
people smile a lot because they're too stupid to know other people think they're
stupid, so they have nothing to feel self-conscious about, so they have nothing to
worry about, so they smile." But she'd only said that because Beck would never
play with her. She only wanted to play with her big brother Herb. Her Herbie.
The only other person who liked him wasn't invited to come, on account of the
divorce. It had barely been a day and he already missed his Dad. He'd wanted to
stay with him in Michigan. He'd begged to stay. Now, he probably wouldn't get
to see him until Christmas. On top of that he'd have to meet a new set of people.
Everyone would pretend to be nice on the outside, but on the inside they'd be
comparing him to his sister and mom and humming, "One is not like the others,"
from Sesame Street. And in a week, high school would start. Ninth grade.
His stomach made a loud rumbling noise.
"Thunder!" Beck said, startled.
"No Beck," Herb said. "It was Herbie." He put a hand on his sister's head to
comfort her. She was afraid of thunder.
"We're here," his mom said.
Outside, closest to his side of the car, a billboard seemed to appear out of nowhere.
It read: "Welcome to Sunken Valley Virginia, The Sweetest Place On Earth."