july 1K


When I was twelve, Justin was my best friend, and his new step brother Mark was the scariest thing in our lives.  He was seventeen and had a different dad from Justin, but it was the dad he lived with now.  A creek cut through the subdivision behind our houses, and we’d catch frogs and stow them in an old aquarium we’d filled with sticks and rocks.  Mark would take the frogs.  He’d have a plastic toy bat with him and toss a frog in the air and hit it as hard as he could and yell, “Hoooomeruuuuun!”  Or he’d light a cherry bomb and stuff it down the frog’s throat and make us watch.

About a mile away, where the land wasn’t developed, stood an abandoned asylum that was home to bums and, depending on who was talking, ghosts of crazy people.  The city never knocked it down, but they stuck a big razor-wired fence around it.  Justin and I crawled under a dug-out spot under the fence and whispered behind our flashlights through the first two floors of the asylum but didn’t see anything besides rusted gurneys and beer cans and condoms.

We also sneaked out one night and hiked up Ricky Road, where people claimed to see Ricky himself hanging from one of the trees that cover the road like a tunnel.  The street was one lane wide with no lights and lots of hairpin turns.  No place to be walking or driving.  Sometimes decapitated heads rolled out of the trees and onto the road and made people swerve and crash their cars.  Other times, cars stopped working at all.  We weren’t old enough to drive, so we walked.  There were lots of noises in the trees, and I had a sickeningly strong feeling that something was following us, but we still didn’t actually see anything.  Not even a dead dog.

I was more curious about that stuff than scared, but Mark really scared me.  I never knew what he might do next.  Because we didn’t know anyone else to ask, we asked Mark to take us to Stoll, Kansas, where there was a gateway to Hell.  He said no way, but he would take us to Kill Creek.

We hadn’t heard of Kill Creek.

At eleven o’clock the next night I snuck out and met Justin and Mark in their hatchback on the corner and hopped in.  “Hey, Pecker,” Mark said.  “I didn’t think you had the balls.”  I didn’t say anything back because I figured Mark wanted me to, and I never wanted to give him that satisfaction.

We drove for half an hour then pulled off K-10 and into some trees.

“In like the 1860s like a thousand Indians were massacred and thrown into this creek.  Thought we could go down and blow up some frogs!”  He laughed and slammed the car door and disappeared into the trees.  We followed his wake of chuckling and rustling.

It was sticky hot like sitting on the tongue of a dragon.  And silent.  The water was so low that it just sat there in puddles at the lowest points of the creek.

“Sorry Peckers,” Mark laughed.  “No frogs tonight.”

“Shut up, Mark,” Justin said, and Mark laughed more.  I wished Justin hadn’t said anything.

I poked a stick in the mud to see if I might rouse a sleeping frog and didn’t expect to see any ghosts.  Then, from a little ways down the creek, Mark said, “Hold it!”

Justin jumped.  “What?”  And he trotted toward Mark.

I caught up to find the circle of Mark’s flashlight illuminating a wet box of abandoned pornos.  Mark snatched one up and looked down at us.

“You guys probably don’t even know what to do with this,” he said, waving a spread in front of us.

Justin grabbed another one.  “Yes we do,” he said in as grown-up a voice he could manage.  I knew he just wanted to feel a part of his new family.

I walked back up the creek.  The clucks and gasps of the guys faded.  I found my stick standing in the mud and squatted down and poked around some more.  Mark was right.  I didn’t know what to do with a box of pornos.

I heard Justin run up behind me.

“Are we going,” I asked, and there was no response.  I turned around.  No one was there.  I could see the faint beams circling Mark and Justin’s feet in the distance.

And then I couldn’t see them.  I couldn’t see anything but trees and Kill Creek, but it felt like there were people standing all around me, and the trees closed in.  And now it felt like there were hundreds of people and more were crowding toward the center, which was me.  It got harder to breath, and I felt crushed.  I couldn’t speak, and I was so crushed that it was even hard to swallow.  I tried to turn my head, and I couldn’t because there were so many invisible bodies pressed up against me, and that’s when Justin’s flashlight cut through everything.  I fell to my knees in the mud and caught my breath.

“You okay?” Justin knelt beside me.

“C’mon, Peckers,” Mark said, his arms wrapped around the collapsing cardboard box.

Justin helped me up, then ran to catch up with Mark.  They disappeared quickly.  I followed.  It felt like my feet weighed a thousand pounds.  Like I was dragging the dead weight of a thousand spirits holding onto my ankles, hoping for escape from whatever hell they were stuck in.

Mark made fun of me when I got into the car, but I couldn’t hear him because my lungs were in my ears.  I wasn’t scared of Mark anymore.  He was all mouth.

As I rode home in the back seat next to a box of wet, muddy pornos I thought about how heavy I felt and how I probably wouldn’t be able to fall asleep tonight.  If ever.

4 Responses to “july 1K”

  1. 1 beth 07/10/2009 at 9:20 am

    i love this kid. and am intrigued by how in such a short span and in such a simple-strange way i got to see him grow up.

  2. 2 Tara Thayer 07/11/2009 at 5:50 pm

    Another incredibly good story. And the photo. Thanks, you two.
    Off to get Tim to come read this.

  3. 3 Cynthia 07/23/2009 at 6:51 pm

    Ok, I am a new fan anxiously waiting for August 10th’s Picture and Story compilations. Thank you for sharing and filling my moments of boredom with joy, laughter, surprise, hope, despair, fear, and elation. I now live for a moment in those 1,000 words and photo.

  4. 4 Jer 08/04/2009 at 11:43 am

    Wow. You described my childhood. Always hated those kids who killed frogs, and turtles, and mooned me, and found pornos, and pushed me, and , and… thanks for this. I still hate those kids.

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