Issue 14 – Fall 2020

The Bloody Holly Story

Brett Biebel

It starts on youth group night at the Surf, and it’s one of them up-till-dawn lock-ins with music and games and pretzels, and this is the mid-90s, but the girls are wearing poodle skirts. Ponytails. Guys have greased hair and white t-shirts with decks of cards rolled up under the sleeves, and the speakers are alternating Tommy James and Elvis and this like soft-rock Christian music where the singers invoke Jesus by his actual name (and all tender and sincere and earnest), and the kids dance far apart (except for the ones that sit close in the booths, and they’re looking deeply into each other’s eyes and fidgeting with promise rings and saying how they’ll be together forever, and just wait till we turn 18, and we can get married right then), and some of them sing with their eyes closed, and there’s this low-humming debate about whether you need to say grace before you reach in for a snack. No, is the consensus. But some of them do. And this girl (who they say is named Laura) goes to the bathroom on a dare, and she’s supposed to say “Bloody Holly” 59 times while staring at the mirror, and nobody knows what happens (on account of it’s just her in there), but when she comes out she’s holding this pair of horn-rimmed glasses with the lenses all busted, and they ain’t polycarbonate. They sure seem like real glass. Some kids, they think they can see designs in the cracks. A picture of Jesus or the Virgin Mary, or hey, maybe that’s a guitar or an airplane (or maybe it’s three guys on a coastal train), and, in the meantime, Laura’s just standing there shaking and shocked, and she says Buddy Holly appeared to her. Says he touched her shoulder. It felt dead and frozen (or maybe it started to burn). He told her there’s nothing worse than dying young, and he’s in purgatory and having to relive the crash every single night, and it hurts just the same every time and all the way through. She starts crying. Some of her friends rub her back. The kids don’t know if she’s serious, and there’s a few who think she’s a prophet, and some others think she’s made the whole thing up, and then there’s this contingent that believes it’s all just the work of the devil, and what they oughta do is burn those glasses just as soon as possible and before this goes any further. Before it gets out of hand, and they argue over this for a while. The music keeps playing. It gets late. Laura, she bows out or zones out, and it’s one of them things where they’re all talking about her like she isn’t even there, and finally someone says, “Let’s pray on it,” and they do, and about halfway through the Our Father two kids stand up on opposite sides of the dance floor and say, “We should throw them in the lake,” and it’s (exactly) simultaneous, and everyone takes this as a sign. The chaperones (who are half- (or maybe fully) asleep at this point let them out. They walk through the neighborhood. Maybe 50, 60 kids. It’s all hushed whispers and footsteps, and, word is, if you overhead, it would’ve sounded pretty damn mystical, and they make their way over to the pier. There’s a whole line of them. Standing. Staring at the Lady of the Lake, and Laura, they send her out to the edge of the dock, and she tosses the glasses in like a Frisbee, and (and maybe this is another little miracle) everyone swears they hear them sink. They all just stand there for a while. Dead quiet. Nobody knows what to do, but it’s this collective reverie, and the whole walk back to the Surf is silent, and it’s dawn by the time they get there, and parents are lined up in minivans and beat-up SUVs, and the kids, they all look shot. Exhausted. Basically beat to shit, and, of course, that figures (because they were up all night and drinking Jolt or Surge or Mountain Dew by the barrel), and so no one asks any questions, and everyone goes home to get some sleep, but they still talk about it the next day and all through the weekend. All through the whole next year. Laura, she becomes like small-town famous, and it gets bad enough that (they say) she lights out the day after graduation and winds up living somewhere way up in the Nebraska Panhandle (or maybe it’s Idaho (or sometimes Utah)), and warm days you can still see kids with snorkels at City Beach. Full diving gear. They’ll tell you they’re looking for Bloody Holly’s glasses, and in the distance they can see older folks in boats, and they’re dumping in these old horn-rims they bought from the Dollar General, and so there must be dozens of pairs under the water there (and when a kid finds one the general rule is not to say shit, to hold it close and hide it under the bed, and the whole idea is it’ll bring good luck), and the boaters and the divers, they actually wave to each other. Smile. Raise a toast. They salute and pass this kind of mutual respect because the sun is shining, and the lake smells like fish and algae, and this is Clear Lake, and the whole thing is like baseball. Ritual. Legacy. Tradition. It’s Cerro Gordo County’s favorite summer pastime.

Brett Biebel teaches writing and literature at Augustana College in Rock Island, IL. His (mostly very) short fiction has appeared in SmokeLong Quarterly, The Masters Review, Emrys Journal, and elsewhere. 48 Blitz, his debut story collection, is available from Split/Lip Press.