The Spoiler

Dennis looked down at the two glasses on the kitchen counter. Each held about two-thirds of a pint and were mostly full with coke, freshly poured. The tub of vanilla ice cream was open beside the glasses, waiting for him to complete the treat. In the living room his sister, Eileen, was waiting for him to return with the floats, the movie they were watching paused on the television. If he waited many more seconds she’d get irritated and start shouting for him to hurry up. It had been his idea to make the floats, she was always impatient.
Heart racing he dug into the pocket of his jeans and pulled out a small plastic baggie, like the ones drug dealers use. This one had been swiped his from his mother’s sewing box. It was half full with bluish-white powder. Opening the bag he held it above his sister’s glass. His thoughts were racing almost as fast as his heart, a constant barrage of questions and doubts bouncing against the inside of his skull.
Did he have the nerve?
Would it work?
Did she deserve it?
The same questions, in one form or another had been plaguing him for over a week, since he decided that she had gone too far. Eileen was a bitch, possibly the worst older sister in history, but she was still family. Sometimes, when her guard was down and her friends not around, she could be kind and caring. Once or twice she had even apologised for the things she did, promising to never be so mean again. The promises never lasted more than a few weeks before she was back to her old ways.
Turning the other cheek again was too much to ask, she needed to know he could fight back. That he would.
The powder in the bag was a mixture he had made himself, sneaking around the house in the small hours of last night. When he wasn’t questioning himself, or distracted by the demands of school, he had spent the whole week thinking about the best recipe. He didn’t want to kill her, just make her really sick for a few days. Trouble would follow, but he didn’t care about after. He wasn’t even planning to deny it when he was openly accused.
He’d tell them all what he’d done and why. They’d send him away, or to therapy at the very least, but they’d all know not to mess with him.
It would have been easy to go online and research how best to achieve his goal. His school routinely monitored all activity and his parents checked often enough to make sure he didn’t hit any more porn sites. His father designed and built security systems for a living, he was one of the best. Dennis was almost as good, but didn’t want to take the risk. Not for this. The porn had landed him in hot water, so hot he silently guessed his father was over-compensating. Domestic poisons could only land him in worse if he was caught. With nothing but common sense and his own ingenuity, plus a little help from old-fashioned books, he had come up with the mix on his own.
The base was crushed up painkillers, a whole card of the extra strong ones his father had for his back—it had been broken in a car crash when he was young, nearly leaving him a cripple. To that he had added a little ground glass, although he was half-sure it would pass through her without causing any damage, nothing serious anyway. Maybe a few little cuts, just enough to add some red to the puke she’d be bringing up. Last, and the cause of the blue hue to the powder, he had added a few slug pellets, raided from the shed. There was a warning on the side of the box but a kid he went to school with had eaten one when he was three.It had made him really sick but he had survived.
Eileen was much larger, she could take a stronger dose.
“What are you doing?” she shouted from the living room. There was no hint of the coyness she used around boys and adults. “I’m going to press play if you don’t hurry up.”
“Yeah,” he tipped the bag into her glass and stirred it thoroughly before adding the ice cream, popping a straw and long handled spoon in after. He was sure the coke and vanilla would mask whatever his mix tasted like. “I’m just coming.”
Dennis was fifteen and unfortunate.
Where his sister took after their mother, pretty and petite, he was tall and found it easier to gain weight than lose it. He spent almost as long every day as she did staring at his face in the mirror as he applied lotions and treatments but his skin never got any better. Every day before school he showered, by the afternoon his hair was greasy again. If he skipped a day, no matter how fresh his clothes were or the deodorant he used, the sharp scent of stale sweat followed him around. There were a few others as unfortunate as he was, but they were better at telling jokes than he was, or clever enough to trade homework for leniency. He was clever enough to get good grades, to keep track of the space operas and fantasy epics he took refuge in, but not clever enough to do someone else’s work as well as his own. The one time he tried, both assignments came back with low grades and he caught it in the neck from everyone—it only got worse when the school worked out that he’d written both shoddy essays.
The internet told him he was living in the age of the geek—the heirs to Bill Gates and Steve Jobs were lining up to take their due. Like a million others, it was his refuge. Behind his screen name, his profile picture never one of himself, he bounced around the forums and chat rooms. He found a few like minds there, although he never managed to stay friends with them for long. Either they walked away, tired of dealing with him, the rigidity of his rules, or the kids at school found Dennis’ own account and forced him to close it and start again. Sometimes he even dropped them himself, although he never just snuck away. He always sent a message telling them why, letting them know how wrong they had been.
There was really only one rule, one cardinal sin. Dennis was religious about observing it and he saw nothing wrong with avoiding the people who didn’t agree, called him uptight and a killjoy.
No spoilers.
It wasn’t a hard rule to follow. All people had to do was announce that there was a spoiler ahead and give everyone else a chance to react. Every review Dennis posted, he had over two hundred on his blog, and nearly thirty subscribers, came with the warning in capital letters, flanked by blocks of asterisks. His reviews were only intended for hardcore fans, as launching pads for discussion. It was only fair and polite that everyone else do the same—give him the chance to walk away when he hadn’t seen or read the relevant story. He had as much of a duty to be alert for them as he did to post warning signs.
It was a simple question of respect. It added to the pleasure, like never using walkthroughs for the video games he played. He liked to feel that he was the first.
“About time,” Eileen said. “I was starting to think you got lost.”
“Whatever,” he said, holding out her glass. For a split second he thought about dropping it, and then he got scared he’d given her the wrong one. Both feelings passed as she took the glass and sipped through the straw. He went to his chair.
“Don’t mention it.”
“Gee, Dennis,” she gave him a mock grin from the couch, curled in one corner with her knees by her chin. “Thank you so much. You are my hero!”
“You going to press play or not?”
The television, like everything else in the spacious house, was expensive. They were watching one of the superhero epics, one Dennis had seen several times before, and the massive screen showed every little detail of the raging CGI battle. It wasn’t the best outing in the franchise but one his sister was willing to watch, she had a crush on one of the leads. The latest in the series, out for less than a fortnight, was supposed to terrible. Dennis hadn’t seen it yet, wasn’t sure that he ever wanted to. A few weeks ago, he’d been excited, despite all the rumours.
He already knew what happened, despite following all his own rules. His online friends had helped him fill in the details, although they didn’t known it. He’d chosen to read the discussion threads, ignoring the disclosures. None of them had broken the code. They didn’t know he’d looked at their threads, he couldn’t blame them for ruining all the little surprises. One or two of them sent him private messages, wondering if he’d managed to see it yet, they wanted him to rag on it. They didn’t message again after he replied that he hadn’t had the time yet, wasn’t sure he’d bother. It wasn’t much of a surprise they didn’t message him a second time, it was always his responsibility to keep the conversation going.
“I really like this bit,” Eileen said around a mouthful of ice cream, half the coke already drunk. Even being greedy she looked pretty. She didn’t seem to have noticed anything funny about the taste. “It makes me laugh.”
“Yeah. It’s a good one.”
Dennis had been away the weekend the new film arrived, a geography field trip taking him to the damp wilds of Wales. When he came back his parents had refused to let him go to the cinema on a school night and the following weekend there was a wedding he was forced to attend. The anticipation had been killing him, making him bad-tempered and rude the whole week. He’d already been grounded by the time they got in the car to drive home on the Sunday morning. The ticket had already been bought, Eileen had agreed to take him, but that didn’t matter. It just meant that she could go with her boyfriend instead.
As their mother berated him, letting the pent up weekend out, Eileen shared the news with her boyfriend via SMS. Her curses were quiet enough not to hear when she learned he wasn’t free and messaged another boy instead. Dennis tried to point it out, the attempts all failed.
It was a long car journey, long enough for their parents to swap driving duties halfway through. The battery on Dennis’ hand-held game failed a short while before Eileen’s music player also ran out of juice. With nothing else to do they spent the last hour slowly bickering, a mirror of their parents in the front. Eileen was happy, delighted that she was going to see the film only he had been excited about. Her complaints about having to chaperone him were part of the reason Dennis had been so angry all week—he wanted her there as much as she wanted to go. Their parents just didn’t trust him to go alone, not to a late screening. Now he was denied, she refused to stop talking about it, pretending she was excited.
She was the one who took it to the next level. Some of the names he called her at the end of the argument, less than twenty minutes from home, were horrible and he hadn’t really meant them but he wasn’t going to take them back. If she hadn’t spent the previous hour taunting him with the film, getting the character names wrong on purpose to wind him up, he’d never have said any of them. He had no friends at school, but he still heard the gossip. It wasn’t hard to make her cry, not when he really put his mind to it and didn’t care about the consequences. Everyone knew she was easy.
She should have left it there, content with her unexpected date and his banishment to bed. One week grounded had become a month, the first week with no internet. She should have been happy with that. There’d have been no need for this if she had, but she’d wanted revenge.
She was the first to play tit for tat.
“Okay, listen,” she said now, the battle scene coming to an end, cutting to the heroes back at their base. “You seem like you’re in a good mood with me today. I mean, you made me a float!”
“Yeah,” it had been hard pretending he’d forgotten. Hard but necessary.
“So, then, listen. I’m sorry I ruined the movie for you. That was really mean. I shouldn’t have done it. I was just really mad at you, but I’m sorry now. Friends?”
“Yeah,” he shook her extended hand limply and turned back to the film.
“Cool,” she smiled and settled back into her corner, tipping the last of the ice cream and coke into her mouth. There was a faint hint of blue to the residue clinging to the side of the glass when she put it down. “You really didn’t miss anything. Even I could tell they totally fucked it up.”
After she got home on Sunday, Eileen had crept into his room, whiskey on her breath. Their parents had still been awake and she’d told them she was going straight to bed—there was only time for her to tell him which of the heroes died before the end. He’d decided then that he was going to get her back, make her feel as sick as he did with the death revealed. It might have passed, even when he was young he had wanted to hold a pillow over her face, just to stop her pushing him over when no-one was looking. The tit for tat spite was ongoing. He’d have forgotten it like all the times before.
She spent two days taunting him, sharing every detail she could, every way she could. In person, via text and the social network aliases she was so good at hunting down – she had the brains and the looks. He hated her.
“Yeah,” he said, finishing his own float. “It’s not getting good reviews.”
Eileen passed out a little while later, just as the protracted final battle started on screen. It was no surprise the new film was getting such bad reviews, the franchise had been losing steam for a while. He sat and watched it as her breathing became shallow.
When the credits were done he rose and looked down at her for a moment. Her skin was pale, filmed with sweat and her breathing irregular. Occasional bubbles appeared on her lips, the froth forming scum in the corners. She looked like she was about to throw up.
Dennis went upstairs and lay down on top of his covers. He was asleep when his parents came home and found his sister. She’d been lying on her back when he left her. The painkillers had made her too drowsy to respond when the slug pellets made her vomit; she choked.
They traced it to him and he didn’t deny it. It was more than he had intended but it was fair. After he was sent away they let him read and watch TV—when he earned it.
There were no more spoilers.