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Top Ten Ways to Die

© March 2017 by Foxglove Lee


All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system.


This is a work of fiction. Names, places, characters and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to any actual persons, living or dead, organizations, events or locales is entirely coincidental.


Cover design © 2017 by Foxglove Lee


Top Ten Ways to Die / by Foxglove Lee.–1st ed.

Summary: When Jess’s dad dies unexpectedly, her world is turned upside-down. The only good things left in life are her Goth girlfriend Tara and Kurt Cobain’s tortured grunge sound. But when a classmate attempts suicide, Jess goes into a downward spin. Her mom is afraid she’s obsessed with death, and doesn’t want her hanging out with Tara or listening to Nirvana. What’s left for Jess in Hicksville if everything she loves is taken away?

[1. Death & Dying—Social Themes—Young Adult Fiction. 2. LGBT—Young Adult Fiction. 3. Suicide—Social Themes—Young Adult Fiction.]



Top Ten Ways to Die


By Foxglove Lee


~1~


One Tuesday morning in 1994, Jess McKinley collapsed halfway between the kitchen and the front door. She landed face-down on the floor, but managed to roll onto her back, clutching her chest, gasping for air.

She didn’t struggle long. It only took a few seconds before she lay motionless, flat on her back, staring up to the heavens.

This would have been the last view her father took in before shuffling off his mortal coil: a white popcorn ceiling, a few cobwebs, and a blaze of sunshine spilling in from the kitchen. If Jess had a choice, she’d prefer a tropical beach, bright turquoise waters, palm trees. A nice peaceful death. Just close those eyes and—poof!—gone forever.

“Mom!” her little sister cried. “Jess is being dead again!”

Storming down the stairs in a suit from the 80s, her mother shouted, “Get up off the floor, Jessica! You’re scaring Alexis.”

“No she’s not,” Alexis said. “I just wanted to get her in trouble.”

Jess could help smiling. “You’re a class act, Rugrat.”

“Corpses can’t talk.”

Jess burst out laughing, but her mother was not amused. “Would you two quit it with all this death talk?”

They stopped joking around. Their mom had already done her makeup for work and if she started crying now she’d have to wash it off and start from scratch.

“And stop rolling around on the ground,” her mother went on. “You’ll get your shirt all dirty.”

“It’s Daddy’s shirt,” Alexis said.

“Yes I know it’s Daddy’s shirt,” their mom snapped. “Jessica, haven’t I asked you to stop wearing your father’s clothes?”

Jess sat up like a zombie. “Why should I stop wearing my father’s clothes?”

“Well, for starters, they’re about fifty sizes too big for you.”

“So what? How do you think you’re supposed to wear a plaid shirt?”

Her mother grumbled, “Paired with a halter top and black jeans, if my daughter’s fashion sense is any indication.”

“This isn’t a halter top,” Jess bit back. “It’s a T-shirt.”

“If I can see your belly button, it’s a halter top.”

Jess tugged down the hem. “There. Better?”

The two-sizes-too small T-shirt popped back up, revealing a slice of midriff.

“Go upstairs and change before the bus gets here. I don’t want the school sending you home again.”

Alexis piped up to say, “Jess’s school is run by fascists.”

“Alexis!” their mother cried. “Where did you hear talk like that?”

Jess scooped her school bag off the ground and slung it over one shoulder. “Oops! There’s my bus! Gotta run!”

“Not so fast.” Her mother grabbed her backpack by the spare strap. “You never once landed yourself in trouble before you started hanging out with that Tara girl.”

A burst of anger shot through Jess and she howled, “Mo-o-om!” What she really wanted to say was that she never got in trouble before her father died and why do you always have to blame Tara for everything?

“I just don’t trust a girl like that,” her mother went on.

“What, a girl who gets straight A’s? A girl who reads classic Russian literature for fun? Who could easily skip straight to university without missing a beat? That’s the kind of girl you don’t trust?”

Jess’s mom clicked her teeth. “Honey, I know your friend is highly intelligent. You don’t need to remind me of that.”

“So what is it then? Why do you hate her so much?”

“You know why, Jess.”

“Oh right: because you don’t like her clothes and you don’t like her makeup. Talk about shallow!”

Her mother shuddered. “It’s all that black lipstick. Gives me the willies.”

Alexis snorted. “Mom said willies!”

“Oh my God, Mom, it’s just lipstick! Who cares?”

Alexis tugged at Jess’s shirtsleeve. “Jess, Jess—Mom said willies!”

Her mother went on to say, “It’s not just lipstick. It’s nail polish and eye shadow and hair and clothing—everything black, black, black.”

“So what? It’s just a colour! Who cares?”

“I don’t want you hanging around with a girl who’s so obviously obsessed with death.” Her mother’s eyes filled with a well of tears. “I worry about you, Jess. Can’t you see that I’m worried?”

Jess didn’t want to have this conversation. Her mother would cry and then she would cry and Alexis would cry and it was just too much. “Mom, my bus. I don’t want to miss it.”

As she darted out the door, her mother called after her: “There’s leftover stew in the fridge. Just need to pop it in the microwave if you’re hungry after school.”

Jess waved without looking back, but once she was on the school bus and the door had closed behind her, she turned to take one last look at what was left of her family.

“Bye,” she whispered so faintly she hardly heard herself say it.


~2~


Jess walked straight to the back of the school bus and sat next to Tara.

“Snazzy lumberjack shirt,” Tara said.

“One of Dad’s favourites.”

“Smells like him.”

“How do you know?” Jess asked, surreptitiously sniffing her pits. “You never even met my dad.”

“No, but I know what you smell like, and this doesn’t smell like that. Process of elimination.”

Tara had on a pair of leggings and a black T-shirt. Her shirt had white lettering that spelled out: I WANNA BE YOUR DOG. The words were set against a picture of a guy on all fours wearing a dog collar around his neck.

“What does your shirt mean?” Jess asked.

Tara looked down. “It’s Iggy Pop.”

“What’s Ziggypop?”

“Oh my God, you are too cute.”

Jess elbowed Tara in the ribs. “Shut up.”

Tara winced, then smiled, hooking one tooth around her naked lower lip. Jess caught herself thinking: If only my mom could see Tara like this, with a clean, fresh face. Tara had such a sweet look about her when she wasn’t wearing makeup, like an extra from Little House on the Prairie—that is, if you ignored the raw, uncombed hair and the chipped black nail polish.

Jess said, “My mom thinks I’ll get sent home again because you can see my belly button.”

“I can?” Tara asked, pulling up Jess’s T-shirt and sticking a finger in Jess’s navel. “Oh yeah, there it is. Right there.”

She wiggled her finger around. Jess giggled and half-heartedly said, “Stop! That tickles!”

Tara pulled up her top even higher, nearly exposing her bra before she jumped into action, tugging it back down. “Tara! Everyone’s gonna see my boobs!”

“Not everyone,” she said. “Just me.”

“Oh, well in that case…” Jess glanced around and, satisfied no one was paying attention to the rejects at the back of the bus, flashed her. “There you go. Happy Birthday.”

“My birthday isn’t until the end of the week.”

“I know. That was just a warm-up.”

“I get my real gift on Friday?” Tara asked, grabbing Jess’s thigh.

Jess smooshed her palm across Tara’s face. “You’re such a perv. Think you can keep your hands to yourself for five seconds?”

“Why?”

“Because I said so?”

“Fi-ine?” Tara said, imitating Jess’s rising intonation and adding a touch of Valley Girl for flair.

Jess laughed. “You know, my mom doesn’t want me hanging around with you. She thinks you’re a bad influence.”

“Well duh. But a bad influence how?”

“She thinks you’re making me obsessed with death.”

“Ha!”

“I know.”

“If anyone’s a bad influence in the obsessed with death department, that would be you, little lady.”

“I know!”

“Your mom is so bourgeois.”

“I know.”

“But your sister’s hilarious.”

“She is?”

“Yeah.”

A solitary scream rang out from the front of the bus, followed by a cluster of squeals. Jess ducked down instinctively, and Tara followed suit.

“What’s going on?” Tara asked.

“I don’t know.”

“Well, take a look!”

Some of the screams had morphed into laughter by the time Jess poked her head into the centre aisle. As soon as she set sights on the entity that had sparked all this commotion, she laughed too.

“What is it?” Tara asked, climbing across Jess’s back to get a look.

Jess pointed. “There.”

The prissy girls at the front of the bus jumped up on their seats. The jocks were laughing at them, and a few fearless do-gooders tried their best to capture the culprit.

“Holy Cow!” someone hollered. “It laid an egg!”

“Haw-haw, very funny.”

“Roosters don’t lay eggs, dummy.”

“Mrs. Cheever,” someone whined. “Adam Layton let his cock out and it’s running around the bus!”

The bus driver slammed on the brakes, which wailed uncooperatively. Everyone heaved forward into the padded seats in front of them. The girls who’d been standing fell on top of each other in a heap.

Adam Layton’s rooster rolled down the aisle like a bowling ball before regaining its footing. Now the beast was angry. Sean tried to grab it, but the rooster pecked his arm so fiercely it drew blood.

“Mrs. Cheever!” someone howled. “Adam Layton’s cock pecked Sean!”

“Why do you think it’s called a pecker?” someone else asked.

Adam Layton said, “I’ll have you know his name is Siegfried.”

“You named your cock Siegfried?”

The bus driver hadn’t even managed to stand up yet, but she hollered, “Language, children! Were you raised in a barn?”

Everybody erupted with laughter while Siegfried found a section of split vinyl and started pecking out bits of foam filling.

“Siegfried, no!” Adam cried. “Somebody stop him. He’s not supposed to eat polyurethane!”

“Haven’t you seen the TV commercials?” Tara said, only loud enough for Jess to hear. “Polyurethane is part of this nutritious breakfast.”

Jess tittered as Mrs. Cheever swivelled around to get a look at what was happening on her bus. “Cheese-and-rice, what have you kids been doing back here? Sacrificing chickens?”

Poor Siegfried had lost a few feathers battling the hands that tried to pick him up.

Sean said, “Sacrificing is a little strong.”

Mrs. Cheever was not amused. “Who snuck a rooster onto my bus?”

“We already told you: that’s Adam Layton’s cock you see before you.”

“Stop calling it that,” the bus driver said.

Even dainty Julia got in on the gag. “Cock is a perfectly acceptable word in the English language, Mrs. Cheever. I’ve got a dictionary in my bag. I’ll show you.”

The bus driver tramped down the aisle like the monster form The Goonies. “You think I’m scared of you, Rooster?”

“You probably should be,” Sean said—and he had the bloodstained shirt to back it up.

“Git!” Mrs. Cheever said, bending too slowly and not nearly low enough. The rooster ran between her legs, darting toward the front of the bus. “Adam Layton, will you grab that cock of yours?”

Everybody roared. “Mrs. Cheever told Adam to grab his cock!”

Rooster,” she said. “You kids have filthy mouths! Now somebody get hold of that beast!”

Nobody could leave that one alone, not even Tara and Jess. “Get hold of that beast,” they said back and forth. “Get hold of that beast! Get hold of that beast!”

Jess laughed so hard she got a stitch in her side.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Cheever instructed everyone to get off the bus until Adam could round up his farmyard friend.

As Jess swung open the latch on the emergency exit doors, she could hear the bus driver asking Adam Layton, “Why on earth would you bring a rooster on a school bus?”

Someone jumped in with this gem: “Mary had her little lamb. Adam had his cock.”

“And a darn big one, if you ask me!” Tara said, in her imitation-Hicksville accent.

“Like you’re such an expert,” Sean cackled.

“Try bleeding on someone your own size,” Tara shot back.

Sean gazed down at the partially-congealed blood oozing from his peck wounds. “Uhhh, Mrs. Cheever?” he called across the bus. “Are there bandages in that first aid box?”

Jess hopped down from the emergency exit and her backpack walloped her butt. Tara was smart enough to toss her book bag to Jess before leaping to the gravel below.


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