Chad L. Hutchison

Queen of the Hill


            Dylan followed his mom through the front door into the kitchen. Mud was on the welcome rug and linoleum. The people packed in the room started singing “Happy Birthday” as soon as the door closed. No one was his age. Unease bloomed in his belly and quickly morphed into anxiety. He wanted the terrible singing, and the focus on him, to stop.

            Most of the people were off key, and Dylan figured it was because they were all drunk. Liquor and beer was everywhere. Bottles and cans littered the table, the counters, sat atop stove burners, and were in raised hands. Cigarette smoke clouded the place. It burned his nose. A radio played Bob Seger’s “Night Moves” behind the singing.

            His mom smiled at him, and when the singing stopped she hugged him tight. “I can’t believe you’re thirteen,” she said in his ear. “I love you, Baby.”

            The hug helped him to feel better. The anxiety left, but the sense of unease did not. It was awkward to have so many people watch him hug his mom.

            People slapped Dylan on his back. He turned a feigned smile in their direction and said, “thanks, thanks.” He knew only a few of them. This was not his party. Most of the people were his mom’s bar friends. He worked his way through the crowd around the table and spotted Lester, one of his mom’s friends he knew, and the father of his buddy Chris.

            Lester was skinny, scruffy, and shaggy-haired. He sat at the table next to Nancy, the plump but pretty owner of the house. She was also one of Dylan’s mom’s drinking buddies.

            His mom sat down at the table beside one of the biggest humans Dylan had ever seen. He wondered how the man didn’t crush the chair he sat on. He was broad as a bull, looked as stout, and resembled Spider-Man and Daredevil’s enemy the Kingpin. He made Dylan’s mom look like a little pixie in the chair beside him. Like a single, skinny fry sitting next to a giant hamburger.

            The big man poured whiskey into a shot glass. A miniature version of a king’s crown was attached to the top of Kingpin’s bottle, and when the liquid passed through the novelty pour spout, red lights blinked and flashed where jewels would be on a real crown. The adults seemed impressed by the novelty. They crowded around the table mesmerized by the blinking lights. Even his mother had her eyes on the miniature crown.

            Lester was one of the few adults not focused on the bottle. He was trying to tell some story to Nancy.

            But without waiting for a pause from Lester, Nancy said, “That one’s for me.” Kingpin handed the shot over the mess of bottles and cans.

            Lester didn’t seem to notice the interruption. He kept talking about how his skidder could go up any hill in the woods.

            Dylan chuckled at Lester; no wonder Nancy wasn’t listening. No one would want to hear some stupid logging story. It was sort of sad. Dylan had heard Lester telling his Mom all about Nancy earlier that day at the county line bar. Lester obviously liked Nancy, but she was not interested in him or his story.

            Dylan wondered where her sons were, and asked above Lester’s story, “Hey, Nancy, is your boys here?”

            She turned her attention to Dylan. Even waited to take her shot. Lester looked upset by this. Maybe the man wasn’t as oblivious to Nancy and her attention, or lack of, as Dylan originally thought.

            “Honey, they’re upstairs with the rest of the kids.” She motioned with her head to where the stairs were in the crowded adjacent room, and then she took the shot without a chaser or a grimace.

            Dylan looked at his mom, and her eyes were on the new shot being poured. He squeezed toward the stairs and shook his head. He didn’t like how focused she was on the whiskey. He was sure they would be staying the night. The sense of unease faded away as he climbed the stairs.

            On the second floor, only the wall was finished that divided the two Cape Cod style rooms. The closet was studded up but had no drywall. Exposed rolls of pink insulation showed between the exterior walls’ studs and the roof trusses. Nancy was divorced, and he wondered if that was why the house was not finished. He heard a radio in the other bedroom playing the Rolling Stones, so Dylan walked to the open door.

            Nancy’s sons, Reggie and Ryan, Lester’s son, Chris, and two girls Dylan didn’t know sat on the floor around a half-empty vodka bottle. All of them were about his age. The girls were most likely sisters, and the oldest one was pretty. Her long, dark hair dropped almost to the floor where she sat. Chris sat close beside her.

            “Hey, birthday boy. Take a shot,” Chris said. He was thin and shaggy haired like his dad.

            Dylan nodded toward the bottle and said, “Where’d ya’ll get that?”

            “Don’t matter, it’s for your birthday,” Chris said.

            “I’m okay. I don’t want any,” Dylan said.

            Chris gave him a shaming look.

            Dylan didn’t like it. “What? I don’t want any.”

            “What? Everybody else took a shot,” Chris said. “Except Ryan, the wuss.” Everybody looked at Ryan.

            Ryan was Nancy’s youngest. Dylan usually played horseshoes with him and the other boys behind the bar while their parents drank a day or evening away.

            “You don’t want to be a wuss too, do you, Dylan?” Chris asked.

            Dylan made a conscious decision not to answer him. They got along, but Dylan didn’t like Chris’ instigating attitude.

            “Call me a wuss then. I don’t want nothin’ to do with it,” Ryan said.

            Dylan sat down beside Ryan, who was about his age, and a little plump like his mother.

            “Give it to me,” the girl closest to Dylan’s age said. She was not as pretty as her sister with the hair. Chris passed the bottle, and she took it, gulped some down, inhaled, gagged, but held it together.

            “Phew,” she said.

            Dylan, along with everyone else, laughed.

            “Pass me the ‘tater juice,” the prettier sister said.

            Dylan had never heard anyone call vodka “‘tater juice.” He knew the Russians made it from potatoes, though.

            “The birthday boy should take a shot,” Chris said. He took the bottle from the younger sister and pushed it in Dylan’s direction.

            “I give my gift to her,” Dylan replied. He passed the bottle on to the pretty sister.

            She smelled the vodka and crinkled her nose in response. Her little nose was cute.  She winked at him.

            Surprised, Dylan smiled back.

            “How old are you today?” she asked.

            Before he could answer, she turned the bottle up and took a gulp.

            Everyone in the room watched.

            She gagged, breathed in, and said in a light voice, “I wish we had chaser. It burns.”

            Everyone laughed. A woman downstairs looked a lot like the girls. He guessed the lady must be their mother. He wondered if this was the first party the girls had been to. How much craziness had they actually seen? Had they ever drank before?

            “I’m thirteen,” Dylan said after the laughter quieted. He looked into her brown eyes, and she looked back at him.

            Chris took the bottle from the girl and then put his other hand on her back, breaking the look Dylan and she shared.

            “You did fine without it,” Chris said. He rubbed her back. She didn’t reject the rubbing. They probably liked each other. Chris stopped touching her and slid the bottle slowly toward Ryan.

            “Nope,” Ryan said. “I don’t want none of that nasty stuff.” He waved the bottle away.

            Dylan didn’t say it aloud, but he agreed vodka was disgusting. Whiskey was better, and he might have taken a shot or two if that was what was being shared.

            “Welp, it’s back to me,” Chris said and took a shot without a reaction. He lowered the bottle and looked through the clear liquid at everyone else. Dylan thought his eye looked stretched out and shaped like a cat’s.

            “Sup, Reggie. Your turn next?” Chris said.

            “Sure, but I don’t want anymore here. Let’s go to the lake,” Reggie said.

            “Sounds good,” Ryan said. He was standing up when Reggie pulled him back down. Ryan gave his older brother an angry look.

            “Sorry, Ryan, you got to stay,” Reggie said and stood up.

            “You can’t go either,” the older girl told her little sister.

            “Looks the same for you,” Chris said with a cooing voice while giving the shame-on-you face again. “Maybe, if you’d have been man enough to take a shot.”

            Dylan glared at Chris.

            Chris winked at Dylan in response.

            He didn’t like Chris acting superior to him. Chris was only a year older and was no relation to him. It was all show. Show for the girl. “This is crap, ya’ll aren’t our parents,” Dylan said.

            “So, we’re bigger, older, and meaner,” Reggie responded.

            Bullshit, Dylan thought but didn’t say.

            “We’ll tell on you for havin’ that vodka,” Ryan said.

            “Didn’t you hear me?” Reggie responded. “We can beat you up. And will.” He faked a punch down toward his brother.

            Ryan didn’t flinch. “Whatever, go,” he said with frustration.

            Chris put his hand down toward the older sister, and she took it.

            Dylan decided he didn’t want to go with them after all.

            After the older kids left, Ryan got up from the floor. “Come on, let’s go play Gran Turismo. I got the new one a few days ago.”

            “Awesome, I just got it today for my birthday,” Dylan said.

            “Did you have a birthday party?” Ryan asked. Dylan and the sister got up too.

            “Naw,” Dylan said. “Papaw and Mamaw came over earlier. I opened my presents then.” He pulled a pocket knife out and handed it to Ryan. “Papaw gave me a Case.”

            Ryan took the knife to examine it and then led everyone into the other bedroom to play games.


            After getting bored with video games, the three younger kids went out to the back porch. They sat on the edge of the wrap-around deck and kicked their legs in the air. The ground was a dozen feet below them.

            Eric Clapton, one of Dylan’s mom’s favorites, played out the open windows of the house. The adults’ laughs drifted out of the windows along with the occasional waft of pot. Dylan had swiped and smoked some of his mom’s roaches in the past, and he liked the skunky smell.

            Nancy’s place was built into the side of a hill, and the lake was in the hollow below the house. Dylan heard the other kids laughing and splashing when the Clapton song switched to something by Tom Petty. It was too far and dark to see the older kids.

            “I bet they’re skinny dippin’,” the younger sister said. Dylan had learned that her name was Brittany. Now that he had spent a little more time with her, her attractiveness had grown. She might end up prettier than her older sister.

            “Maybe, but the lake is still cold, so I wouldn’t,” Ryan said.

            Dylan thought about the older girl being naked and bet himself she would be a sight to see. In the moonlight. Long hair clinging heavy. Wet skin glistening. Maybe he should have taken a shot? Maybe he could have been skinny dipping with Brittany’s sister?

            “You guys are real party poopers,” Brittany said.

            “What the hell are you kids sayin’?” Dylan turned and Lester stepped through the door. Dylan was startled. He didn’t like the way Lester’s voice sounded. The way he held his body. Lester’s shadow stretched from the door and into the darkness past the deck. 

            “You think they drank all the vodka?” Dylan asked. He doubted that Brittany’s sister was skinny dipping. But maybe alcohol helped that kind of thing happen?

            “Probably,” Ryan said. “Chris is a drunk like his dad. One time, Lester brought moonshine here, passed out, and then puked on himself. Chris puked all over Reggie’s floor that same night.”

            “Just cause you get drunk, don’t make you a drunk. At least that’s what Mom says,” Dylan replied.

            “Yeah, but if you get drunk all the time that makes you a drunk,” Brittany said.

            “Chris doesn’t get drunk all the time, but Lester does. That makes him the drunk,” Ryan said and chuckled.

            The back door opened behind them and Petty got louder.

            “What the hell are you kids sayin’?” Dylan turned and Lester stepped through the door. Dylan was startled. He didn’t like the way Lester’s voice sounded. The way he held his body. Lester’s shadow stretched from the door and into the darkness past the deck.

            “Nothin’, sir,” Dylan said in the most passive voice he could use.

            “Bullshit,” Lester snapped back. “I heard you piss ants call me a drunk.”

            “You’re drunk every time I see you,” Ryan said, matching Lester’s anger with his own younger voice.

            “You little shit,” Lester grabbed Ryan under the arms and pulled him up from the edge of the deck. “I’ll teach you to fuckin’ disrespect an adult.”

            Brittany squealed, but Dylan barely registered the sound.

            “Bend over,” Lester said, and he forced Ryan to move.

            “Screw you, dickhead,” Ryan said with mixed anger and fear.

            Lester pushed Ryan by the back of the head and forced him to bend over the deck railing. 

            Ryan resisted and thrashed.

            Dylan stood up. He had to do something.

            “I’ll make…” Lester was cut short. Dylan’s mom hit Lester in the back of the head.

            Dylan stopped moving toward them.

            She pistoned her arm again and hit Lester in the ear.

            He let go of Ryan and started to turn toward her.

            She threw her next punch with a fast, tight twist of her upper body. Her fist landed on Lester’s lower lip with a flat cracking sound.

            His legs wobbled, and he stumbled up against the deck railing. Lester’s eyes were briefly blank. The punch had switched the lights off in his brain for a second.

            She put the palms of both her hands under Lester’s unshaven chin and pushed.

            His head went backwards over the railing, and then his back bent over it too. His work boots lifted off the deck. He grabbed her wrists at the last moment and steadied himself.

            It was fifteen feet to the ground below. He put his legs out behind her to counter-balance. His body went rigid but rocked up and down from trying to balance and not fall.

            “Lester Fucking Bennett,” Dylan’s mom said. “I’ll kill you if you ever touch one of these kids again.” He bucked and she fought him. “I’ll throw you from this fucker and drown you in the lake.”

            Lester’s lips pulled back in fear, and there was a red smear across his teeth.

            Dylan saw the red and grimaced. Blood. His mom caused that. His mom.

            “You understand me?” she said. Tears formed in her eyes, but there was no sadness there, only rage. She pushed Lester farther when he did not answer.

            “You understand?” she shouted. A tear fell down her cheek. “Answer me. I’ll drop you.”

            There was a moment of stillness with only his mom and Lester staring each other in the face.

            A twitch of movement, and then Lester said, “Yes, yes.”

            She grabbed a handful of his hair, yanked the man off the railing, and twisted him to the floor of the deck. He groaned when his face hit the boards, and he tried to get out of her grasp by rolling over. She held onto his long hair, stomped one of her dirt-stained running shoes into his throat, and pulled his head up.

            “I’ll kill you,” she said.

            There was no way Lester was getting air. His mom was trying to kill him after all. Dylan couldn’t let that happen and moved towards the fight.

            “You understand?” she screamed again. Rage was still in her eyes.

            Lester wrapped his hands around her calf.

            Dylan stopped.

            Lester’s eyes were wide, and blood ran out his mouth. “Yes. Yes,” he mouthed, but no sound came with the movement of his lips.

            “Good. Get the fuck out.” She let go of his hair but pushed down harder with her shoe before lifting it off. She grabbed and hugged Ryan, who looked confused. Shocked. She sobbed a little while hugging him.

            Lester coughed and gasped, then got to his knees and dry-heaved.

            “Don’t puke on my deck, Lester,” Nancy said.

            Dylan turned and saw Nancy just inside the door, shaking her head.

            He looked and Brittany still sat with her legs dangling off the deck.

            “You better leave,” Nancy said.

            Lester wiped blood from his mouth. “Where’s my boy?”

            No one answered. Everyone just gawked, looking at him on his knees.

            “Where’s my boy?” He said again with a hoarse yell.

            Dylan’s mother turned towards Lester, and said in a stern voice, “Just go, he’ll get home safely.”

            Brittany’s mom came around Nancy and out to her daughter.

            The other adults looked out through the windows.

            Lester got to his feet and went around the deck.

            Dylan’s mom walked inside.

            He followed, squeezing through the closing crowd behind her.

            She sat down at the table.

            “Are you okay, Mom?” Dylan asked. He heard an engine rev and then heard gravel ping off other vehicles. Tom Petty closed out his song.

            “Yes, Baby. You’ve got to do somethin’. Don’t ever let some man treat you or your friends that way.” Tears ran down her cheeks.

            People around the table started asking questions.

            She didn’t answer anyone. Instead, with a bloody-knuckled hand, she grabbed the closest bottle and poured a shot. When the whiskey passed through the spout, red lights flashed where jewels would be on a real crown.


Chad L. Hutchison grew up in Kentucky on a farm bounded by the Ohio River. He received his MFA from Eastern Kentucky University, where he was co-editor of the student newspaper, co-founder of an alternative newspaper, editor of the yearbook, and editor of the undergraduate literary arts journal. He is thankful to be employed and still able to find time to write. His previous work has appeared at Word Riot. He and his wife have three little boys.


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