The following are excerpts from Kurt's upcoming novel, "Afraid We Are Not."
"AFRAID WE ARE NOT"
His body tore through the prickly branches of bushes. They ripped at his bare arms and cheek. The
only sound he was sure he was hearing was his own breathing and footfalls upon the forest trail. Yet,
he was quite sure he could hear more footsteps behind him, getting closer.
To his right was the steep hill leading to the school track and the adjacent elementary school. To his
left, a mix of white and red pines and cedar trees. Large ferns hid the ground and whatever slithered
beneath them. Thick black muck guarded access to the gentle river beyond. His only hope seemed to be
to reach the top of the hill at the end of the trail and come out where there were houses again.
He looked back. No sign of anyone following, but the sandy trail was ever curving, obscuring his
view. He just knew he was being pursued. If he stopped he was dead.
Nine-year-old Jan Richards rushed down the pathway at top speed. He knew he wasn't real fast, but
what else could he do? His tennis shoes kicked up sand and golden red pine needles off the foot trail as
he dashed ahead.
His windpipe was becoming a dust rag, picking up all sorts of dust and pollen. That meant one
thing. His asthma would soon be kicking in.
“Sissy-boy, you're dead meat!”
The voice of Mark Fury sounded closer now. He must be gaining on him.
Keep going! Keep going! Jan told himself. You can do this. You really can. Little faster. Just a little.
The path should start going up just ahead. After that were houses and people. Grown-ups.
Jan gritted his teeth to squeeze out just a little more speed. Mark might catch up while he was
charging up the hill. It was harder running uphill. Don't look back. Run. Run!
Then, just as he felt like he might be gaining a little more speed, the thick root of a white pine
grabbed his foot. It sent him flying over toward the forest and downward.
As he struck the ground to the left on his shoulder, he crashed through ferns and rolled over to a
fallen tree before stopping. Now, the wheezing started. Jan clamped his left hand over his mouth to
suppress the noise. That's when the other voice kicked in.
That was so stupid! Why didn't you watch where you were going?
His left shoulder ached from striking the ground. At least, he didn't land in the muck. The dirt was
still solid here. Pushing himself back against the tree, he kept low. Ferns, the white pine and a cedar
tree hid him from the path.
Then came the thunder of footfalls upon the sandy trail. Mark Fury blazed by with eyes set straight
ahead. Within a few seconds, Jan couldn't even hear Mark's footsteps any longer.
Tripping and falling out of sight was not the mostly manly thing to do. Yet, it seemed a better
ending than what might have been with Mark on his trail.
Jan shoved his right hand into his pants pocket. At the bottom was the cylindrical object he needed.
Removing the inhaler, he quickly took two puffs. They left a bad aftertaste, but would get him
breathing regularly again.
Slowly and soundlessly, he picked himself up out of the black dirt and little green plants which were
shooting out around him. All was silent except for the river flowing over rocks and branches about
fifteen feet away. Jan felt something prickly against his neck all of a sudden. His left hand left his
mouth and reached back around. Pine needles.
He pulled them out of his hair and looked at them. Had he not felt them, he probably wouldn't have
noticed them. Their color was similar to his own light red hair. The needles were just a little softer in
Slipping the inhaler back into his pocket, he stepped forward and peered through some tree
branches. As far as he could see, the path stood empty as it came to its next curve. Nothing in sight. No
sounds. He appeared to be alone with the squirrels and birds. Waiting just a few more minutes, he made
his way up the hill to safety.
* * * * *
That night, Jan came out of his bedroom in his pajamas. His shoulder just ached a little from his fall
on the path earlier. He peered around the lamp sitting on the side table next to his doorway. His parents
sat at the far end of the light blue living room talking in hushed tones.
“I still think it's too bad about that Quarry boy,” his mom said.
“Yeah. But he always was a bit of an oddball,” said dad.
“That doesn't make it any less sad,” Marge added. “He just graduated a year ago. He had his whole
life ahead of him. What would make him do that?”
“Like I said, he was an oddball. Remember he worked at the flower shop.”
“Oh, what does that have to do with anything?”
“It tells you he wasn't quite a normal boy.”
“Oh, you men.”
Jan stepped out into the open.
“Well, there's my little man,” Mom said.
“On his way to becoming a big man,” Dad added.
He ran over to his auburn-haired mom who wrapped her arms tightly around him. Then backing her
head up, she began assaulting him with kisses all around his face. “But you'll always be momma's boy,
“Now, cut that out. Jan's going to be a tough guy. Too much mushy stuff weakens the muscles.
Come here,” said his dad grinning widely as he sat on the couch in dark a pair of dark pants and
undershirt. In its rolled sleeve, the undershirt held tight to a cigarette pack like a holster holding a six-
shooter. His dad’s black, close-cropped, crew-cut made him look so strong and tough. His mustache
lined up perfectly with the edges of his lip.
Jan and his dad shook hands. His dad’s paw-like hand swallowed Jan’s in its grasp, but shook it
gently. Dad grinned again and gave him a quick wink. It made Jan's heart jump when he did that.
He looked down at the newspaper pile at his dad's feet.
“Dad, can I … ?
“Read them one more time? Sure.”
“But just once more,” Mom said.
“You will, right, son?”
“A boy has to have his adventures,” Dad winked again.
Jan scooped up the newspaper comics section off the floor and ran off toward his bedroom. Leaping
onto his bed, he turned on the night light and peeled back the pages until he found “Dick Tracy” and
As he read through the strips once more, he could hear his parents talking in hushed voices
“Ya gotta stop babying that boy, Marge. Too much cuddling ain't good for boys. All this protecting
him all the time while I'm gone has got to stop. Do you want him to turn out to be a sissy?”
“Oh, now you’re exaggerating, Sam. Stop it.”
“The world is rough on boys. They’ve gotta be tough to make it.”
“The world is rough on everyone.”
“You don’t know what’s expected of boys, Marge. There are things he has to get through in this life
that girls don’t. Expectations. He’s gotta know he’s got what it takes.”
“What it takes for what, Sam?”
“I can’t explain it to a woman. You wouldn’t understand. But I want Jan to be a real man!”
“I’ve never met a boy yet who turned out to be a woman.”
“If you want him a certain way, why don’t you spend more time with him?”
“You’re the one that wants Sue to go to college. How’re we gonna do that unless I work every
moment I get? I’m not having our kids go through what my family went through. Our kids are gonna
have a better life.”
“That was thirty years ago. The world is different now. And I’m not having Sue miss this
opportunity to better herself.”
“Well, I just want our son to be a real man, Marge. He’s gotta learn to be tough!”
From his bedroom, Jan stared at the comic strip, but wasn't reading anymore. Even in hushed tones,
their words carried underneath his bedroom door. He knew sissies were boys who were girl-like. He
just wasn't sure what all that meant.
His dad made it sound like boys could become girls. How did that happen? Did too many hugs from
moms make a boy's private parts shrink up, leaving them looking like girls?
Jan sure hadn't been tough today. If his dad knew he hadn't fought back against Mark Fury,
it probably would have made him mad. Boys were supposed to fight. It was in every western
and Tarzan movie they ever watched together.
Even in the Bible, God sometimes told people to go to war. That meant fighting. And God told men
to be brave and strong.
And yet … Jan's Sunday school teacher, Mrs. Beach, had told his class about how Jesus wanted
boys to “turn the other cheek” because fighting didn't show others God's love.
That made no sense. A boy couldn’t be a brave fighter and a sissy. Jan flung the comics section
down on the floor.
To be honest, Jan never felt brave when Mark or some of the other boys were around. He felt
terrified. Name-calling, challenges to fight fired from their lips. What would his dad think if he knew
how Jan felt?
Do you want him to turn out to be a sissy? A sissy.
The negative voice echoed his dad's voice came back into his head. Maybe his dad thought he was
becoming one already. Mark Fury said he already was one. His dad was definitely angry about Jan
If God wanted men to be strong and brave, He must really hate sissies too. Was God ashamed of Jan
for running from bullies? Would God leave him? Does He walk away and not come back at some
point? Jan began to feel tears run down his cheeks.
Only sissies cry.
I don't want to be a sissy. But what if I can't help it? Jan wondered. His whole body shook at the
words in his head.
That's when his stomach started to churn. There was a sharp pain too. He squeezed his eyes shut and
gritted his teeth. Arms hugged his abdomen. He wanted to call for his mom. But after what his dad
said, he didn't want them to see him not being able to handle a little stomach pain.
So, he rolled over onto his stomach. It would be better to keep this a secret too. It was probably
something only sissies get.