Jeff Strand

The June Special Guest Writer is Jeff Strand

Please feel free to learn about Jeff HERE


by Jeff Strand

When I was ten, my older brother Mike asked if I wanted to play a game. I said, yeah, sure, of course. I mean, who wouldn't want to play a game?

"The object of the game is to see who can hit each other the lightest," he explained. "You go first."

I nodded. The rules seemed pretty straightforward. I reached out with the tip of my pinky finger (my left pinky, since I was right-handed and knew that my left pinky would have less strength) and gave him just the slightest hint of a tap with it.

Ha. My sixteen-year-old brother, with his thick, beefy fingers, could never hit me lighter than that!

Mike punched me in the face, so hard that I dropped to the living room floor. "You win!" he announced, chuckling as he walked out of the room.

As I lay there, I thought,Wow, my brother is a genius! I'm not saying I enjoyed the pain, but still, I had to admire him for coming up with such a clever idea. It was worth the bloody lip to be in the presence of such innovation and brilliance.

The next day, as I walked to school, I saw my friend Chet about a block ahead of me. I hurried to catch up with him. "Hey, Chet," I said, "do you want to play a game?"

I giggled, which probably gave away my evil intent, but Chet shrugged. "Sure."

"Okay, the way it works is, we're going to hit each other, and we're going to see who can hit the other person the lightest. I go first. I mean, you go first. Hit me as light as you can."

Chet shook his head. "No way. You'll hit me back hard and say that I won."

My shoulders slumped. "You've heard of that one?"

"Everybody knows that one. It's an old trick."

How disappointing. My brother wasn't an evil genius; he was a plagiarist. (Note that if the trick had worked, I promise I would have given Mike full credit as Chet lay on the sidewalk with his bloody lip.)

"Oh," I said.

"I can't believe you were going to punch me," said Chet. "Why don't you walk by yourself today?"

I obliged, standing in place until Chet was once again a block ahead of me. I didn't deserve to have any friends, not if I was so inept as to try an ancient gag on them.

When I got home from school, Mike (whose school let out fifteen minutes earlier than mine, which was unfair to me, but he had to get up fifteen minutes earlier each morning, which was unfair to him, so it all evened out) was in the kitchen, making a sandwich. "Hey," he said. "Do you want to play a card game?"


"It's a fun one!"

"No, thank you."

"Jeez, what's up your butt?"

"Nothing," I said. And then I wondered if I was being too pouty. Maybe this was a genuinely fun card game. "What's the game?"

"It's the best card game ever. It's called Fifty-Two Pickup."

I sighed. Even I, who had clearly been shielded from much of the world until now, knew about Fifty-Two Pickup. "Uh-uh. You'll just throw the cards on the floor and make me pick them up."

"No, this is a different version."

"I'm not playing."

"All right," said Mike, taking a gigantic bite out of his sandwich. He talked as he chewed. "It would've been the most fun game of Fifty-Two Pickup in history. Nobody in the world has ever played a more fun game of Fifty-Two Pickup, but if you're okay with missing out, there's nothing I can do." He shook his head in great sorrow. "I can't force you to have the most fun of your life. I can't force you to create memories that you'll look back on fondly in your old age."

"Shut up," I told him. "I'm not gullible."

I was pretty gullible, to be honest, but not that gullible. His variation would probably be something like Fifty-Three Pickup, where he included the joker.

"How about a different game, then?"

"Like what?"

"It's called Stop Stabbing Me."

"That doesn't sound fun."

"It's lots of fun. Basically we each get a knife, and we take turns seeing who can go the longest without saying 'Stop stabbing me.' Once they ask you to stop, you have to stop, you can't just keep going."

"I don't think Mom will like that."

"Mom doesn't get home until six." Mike set his half-eaten sandwich down on the counter and opened the silverware drawer. He took out two butter knives and gave one to me. "We start out easy. For round one, you can only do hands. Give me your hand."

"No way."

"Give me your hand."

I said, no way."

"Stop being such a wuss."

"It's not wussy to not want to get stabbed."

"It's a butter knife. Is your hand made of butter? I've never seen such cowardice. How do you expect to ever get a girlfriend if you live your life in such a cowardly manner?"

"Okay, fine, whatever." I held out my hand, palm up, trying not to let Mike see that I was cringing.

He began to rapidly tap the tip of the butter knife against the center of my palm, not exactly gently, but not too hard. It was more annoying than painful.

"Does that hurt?" he asked.


He began to tap a little faster and a little harder.

"How about now?"

"Kind of."

"Is it more than you can take?"


He kept tapping, getting progressively faster and harder. It finally started to hurt quite a bit, so I said "Stop stabbing me."

Mike stopped, which was nice because I kind of thought the whole punchline to his game was that he wouldn't. I had a big red mark in the center of my palm, but nothing had broken the skin.

"That was thirty seconds," he said. I hadn't seen him check his watch so I assume he was just estimating. He held out his palm. "Your turn."

I began to poke at his hand with my knife. I was tempted to hit slightly harder than Mike had, but I knew deep inside that to do so would be unfair, so I tried to match his intensity and frequency as well as I could recall it.

He didn't look like he was in much pain, but he did start to get a similar red mark on his hand, and finally he said "Stop stabbing me."

I did.

"That was thirty-three seconds," he said, probably inaccurately, but since I hadn't been timing it myself I was in no position to argue. "I win round one." He took the butter knife from me and put both knives back in the silverware drawer.

"Mom will get mad if we don't wash those first," I said.

"How would Mom know? Is she going to do DNA testing on the knives before she uses them? Are you going to tell her?"

I hung my head, suitably ashamed. I hadn't meant to hint that I might rat us out. I would never do such a thing; there are many ways in which I'm a lame excuse for a little brother, but I'm certainly not a tattletale. "No, I'm not gonna tell."

"Good." He took out two steak knives. "Hold out your hand."

"I don't want to."

"Are you really going to give up after one round? One measly little round? I've never seen such a quitter."

Being known as a quitter was slightly better than being known as a tattletale, but both were laden with disgrace. I held out my hand.

"You ready?" Mike asked.

I nodded.

Mike jabbed the tip of the steak knife against my palm, deep enough to hurt but not enough to break the skin.

"Ow! Stop stabbing me!"

"That's it?" Mike asked. "You're quitting that easily?"

"It hurt!"

"It's supposed to hurt when somebody pokes at you with a knife! That doesn't mean you give up after the first poke!"

"This game isn't any good. Let's play Fifty-Two Pickup."

"No, we need to play this through or we'll never know who won." He held out his palm. "Go on."

I didn't want to hit his hand with the knife, but what was I supposed to do, not hit his hand with the knife? I gently poked at his palm with the blade. Mike didn't flinch, so I poked slightly harder, until a tiny drop of blood appeared.

"Okay, okay," he said. "Stop stabbing me."

I stopped. Mike took the knives from me and put them back in the drawer.

"That one had blood on it!" I said.

"So? Steak has blood in it. Are you scared that you're going to cut a bloody steak with a knife that has a tiny bit of my blood on it? If you think I have a disease, just say so. Most brothers aren't so selfish that they worry about getting diseases from their own family, but if that's the way you want to be..."

"No, no, it's okay," I said, though before Mom got home I fully intended to wash that knife.

Mike opened the drawer next to the silverware one, and took out two butcher knives. He handed one to me.

"Now the rules change," he said. "You can stab as hard as you want, and you can stab anywhere. I go first."

"No way!"

"You have to do this! If you don't, I'll tell everybody that you're a quitter! Quitters never accomplish anything in life. Do you want to be homeless, like Uncle Rick?"

"Uncle Rick isn't homeless."

"Yes, he is. He just doesn't tell anyone because he's embarrassed."

"I think you're lying."

"Well, I think you're a quitter. The rules say you can stab anywhere, but it's not like I'm going to stab you in the heart or anything. You'll be okay."

"This is a bad game."

"It's not a bad game! Chicks love this game! They don't love playing it themselves, but when they hear that a guy plays 'Stop Stabbing Me' they know he's a real man. But you aren't. You're just a little kid. Sad. Very sad."

I didn't know what to do. Only a fool would let somebody stab them like that, but he was my brother. Mike wouldn't let me come to any real harm. He wouldn't slash my jugular vein and let me bleed out. Worst-case scenario, he might poke me in the side, thinking that I'd scream "Stop stabbing me!" the instant the stainless steel blade touched my skin.

Well, I wouldn't do that. I'd win this game. Then he'd be sorry.

I held up my arms, giving Mike free access to my torso. "All right," I said. "Go."

Mike held up the butcher knife, slowly moving it around, biting his lip as if trying to decide the best place to stab me.

I could trust him, right...?

Mike lowered the knife and burst out laughing. "Oh my God! Oh my God! You were really going to let me stab you with a butcher knife!"

"We were playing a game!"

"You don't let somebody stab you with a butcher knife as part of a game! Oh my God! You're mentally ill! What kind of dumbass would willingly stand there and let me do that? I mean, that's the kind of behavior where they lock you in an asylum. That's what's going to happen to you. Men in white coats are going to take you off to an asylum and fill you with drugs while they try to figure out why you'd give somebody permission to stab you!"

"I knew you weren't going to stab me hard!"

"You knew no such thing! I was standing here with a butcher knife! You don't gently stab somebody with a butcher knife! You are insaaaaaaaaane!" Mike began making insane faces, crossing his eyes and sticking out his tongue and twitching around like he was having a seizure.

He wouldn't really let them come and take me away to the crazy house, would he?

No. He was my big brother. He'd protect me.

But I'd trusted him a moment ago, and that hadn't worked out so well. If I was going to spend the rest of my life getting shocked, I'd rather it be because I was a maniac than an idiot!

So I stabbed him.

Mike yelped as the knife went into his side. "Stop stabbing me! Stop stabbing me!" he shouted.

I yanked the knife out. "Ha! I win!"

He pressed his hand against the wound. Blood quickly began to trickle between his fingers. "You little jerk! Do you know what you are?"


"You're a cheater!"

"I am not!"

"You are so! It wasn't your turn!"

"Yes, it was!"

"No, it wasn't! I didn't stab you!"

"You forfeited your turn!"

"I never said I forfeited my turn!"

I paused. He hadn't, technically, yet he'd definitely implied that not only had he forfeited his turn, but that the entire game had been a scam.

"You quit," I said.

"I did not. Now you have to let me stab you back or I'll tell everyone you're a cheater. Everyone!"

I shook my head. "No. You'll just say that stuff about calling the asylum again."

"I wasn't really going to have you committed, but I am going to tell everybody you're a cheater." He pulled his hand away, looked at the gash, and sighed. "Look how much I'm bleeding. I'm going to have to go to the hospital and get stitches, you cheater."

"I'm not a cheater!"

"You're a cheater! Cheater! Cheater! I'm telling everyone!"

At this point, I figured, if I was going to get an undeserved reputation as a cheater, I might as well get a deserved one. So I stabbed him again.

"Ow!" Mike wailed, clutching at his upper thigh. "Stop stabbing me! Stop stabbing me!"

"That's what you get," I told him.

"I was trying to make peace, and you went and stabbed me again! Now I'm bleeding twice as much!" Mike clutched at both of his wounds, and then something marvelous happened.

My older brother began to cry.

"You're a crybaby!" I shouted.

"No, I'm not," he said, hurriedly wiping away the tears, leaving streaks of blood under his eyes.

"You are! I saw you! Crybaby! Crybaby! Mike's a great big crybaby!" I began to dance around the kitchen, doing my just-invented "Mike Is A Great Big Crybaby" dance.

"Shut up!"

"Crybaby! Cry-cry-cry-cry-crybaby!"

"Stop that!"

"I'm going to tell everybody that you cried. Everybody!"

"I'm sorry, all right? Look, I promise I won't tell that you were going to let me stab you, and that you stabbed me, and that you cheated, if you promise not to tell that I cried. We'll start fresh. Deal?"

"Deal," I said, and we shook bloody hands.

"Could you clean up the kitchen while I walk to the hospital?"

"Uh-uh. I'm not cleaning up the whole kitchen. This is half your fault."

"All right, all right."

So, working together as brothers should, we mopped up the blood on the floor, though Mike kept adding to the mess, making it difficult to finish. We argued about washing the butcher knives, and settled for only washing the one I'd used to stab him.

He went to the hospital and got sewn up, though unfortunately the stupid doctor called Mom. But he didn't tattle. He told them that he'd been trying to juggle knives, and that he now knew that he needed more practice.

Though we didn't play many games after that, we remained the best of friends. We're both grown now and live hours apart, but we still call each other every day. He's the best person I know.

You mess with my brother, and I'll stab you.

Heh heh. Just kidding.

Jeff Strand is the four-time Bram Stoker Award-nominated author of 40+ books, including Blister, A Bad Day For Voodoo, and Wolf Hunt. Cemetery Dance magazine said “No author working today comes close to Jeff Strand’s perfect mixture of comedy and terror.” He lives in Atlanta, Georgia.