“Stop, Drop and Roll” by Mercury-Marvin Sunderland

“Tobias. I hope you understand.”

Tobias looked up shyly. He was sitting on the kitchen floor, defenseless. His backpack was lying beside him. He was already getting picked on at school. Having to leave the classroom while everyone else got to learn something he didn’t was going to make him even more of a target, for sure. Though he was young, he knew that missing this knowledge was going to affect him negatively, even if he didn’t really understand why.

“Mom,” he protested, “I really don’t think it’s the Devil’s work. I just want to learn.”

“Honey, there are many things that you don’t understand,” Mary remarked. “But I can’t have you learning about things you shouldn’t be doing even when you’re an adult.”

Tobias stared at her, coldly.

“That’s why you have to give me the form,” she continued. “I need you to opt out of taking sex-ed.”

“No.” He grasped his backpack.

This was not how he’d wanted to spend his afternoon home from school. He just wanted to go to his room. But he knew his mother’s anger too well, and that would only lead to even more punishment.

Mary’s lips turned thin. She huffed.

“I knew it was a mistake to send you to public school,” she muttered. “They don’t teach good Christian values anymore.”

“Yeah, it’s illegal for –”

“I KNOW IT’S ILLEGAL. We’ve already had this conversation. I really thought I’d taught you better than this. This is a Christian nation and the liberal agenda is destroying God’s values. I thought you knew better than to give in to the Devil’s work.”

“What could possibly be so bad that they’d teach me at school?”

Mary snarled.

“Do you listen to anything that I tell you?”

Silence.

“The kids in my class don’t talk to me,” he admitted. “They say it’s because you’re a cult leader.”

The fire in Mary’s eyes was incendiary.

“You take that back,” she hissed. “I taught you better than to speak of our family in that way.”

She tried to snatch Tobias’ backpack, but he evaded. He got up and started running.

“GET BACK HERE.”

Tobias bolted out the door and ran as fast as his fifth-grade legs could take him. He’d never been the best at the mile run, but a kid can be fast in a matter of life and death.

A sharp object pierced his arm. He knew that feeling too well.

Quickly, he collapsed. Mom’s tranquilizer darts never failed.


Tobias woke up in the trunk of a car. Again.

He could tell it was his mom’s SUV, which thankfully meant that he wasn’t confined without windows. He wasn’t trapped in what could be considered a kidnapping-style trunk, but he was trapped there nonetheless.

He was used to this, but that didn’t mean he accepted it. Already exhausted, he banged one fist on the back window. It tremored slightly. He noticed that the air outside seemed kind of foggy. Though it was the end of fall, he didn’t think it was that cold outside. But Idaho weather can be weird like that.

He was also surrounded by packing boxes. That was new.

“Tobias?”

He ignored his mother.

“Are you awake now?”

He continued to ignore her. He knew it made her angry, but everything seemed to make her angry.

“You know where we’re going, right?”

Tobias picked at the upholstered floor. “When are you taking me back to the house?”

He knew the drill. She’d drive him to somewhere dangerous, make it seem like she was going to kill him, only to stop at the last moment. Then she’d launch into this big, babbling speech about how he needed to love his mother more because any moment could be his last, and how your dying actions affect your ability to get into Heaven and blah blah blah blah blah. He’d heard it many times now.

“I burned it down.”

“Yeah, right.” Tobias scoffed.

“You want me to prove it to you?”

She rolled down all the windows. The car was immediately filled with smoke.

Still, she might be making it up. Why on earth would his mother burn down the house? Wouldn’t that also destroy everything she owned?

He steadied himself and got a good look at the car seats.

Boxes.

Just like the ones with him in the trunk.

Oh.

This wasn’t a drill anymore.

This was the real thing.

Tobias searched for a plan. He knew that if he ran away, God’s heat-seeking missiles would come and kill him. He’d been told that for as long as he could remember. But he had to escape.

He’d never had to figure out how to work the emergency handle. But he pushed over a box and there it was. His mother was still babbling in the front seat of the car. He could hear the tires screeching. He could feel the boxes sliding. He could feel his life dangling.

Now his mother was screaming about the pits of Hell and how he’d already been claimed by Satan. He grabbed on the latch and pulled.

The door opened. He crossed his arms and rolled. He didn’t know if it would work, but he remembered being taught “Stop, Drop, and Roll” during fire drills and hoped it could still save him.

Tobias tumbled himself into the middle of a countryside road. He watched his mother’s car skid into the intersection, where it continued to spin out-of-control.

Without looking back, he ran.

Mercury-Marvin Sunderland (he/him) is a transgender autistic gay man from Seattle with Borderline Personality Disorder. He currently attends the Evergreen State College and works for Headline Poetry & Press. He’s been published by UC Riverside’s Santa Ana River Review, UC Santa Barbara’s Spectrum Literary Journal, and The New School’s The Inquisitive Eater. His lifelong dream is to become the most banned author in human history. He’s @Romangodmercury on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.