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  Table of contents Issue Twenty-three JASON MACKEY'S LAST RIDE

by
GILLIAN KING CARGILE
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T

he first thing I can tell you about Jason Mackey is that you shouldn’t feel sorry he’s dead. He was a bad kid. My grandma used to say that he was always “up to something” and that what he was “up to” was “no good.”



The second thing I can tell you is that he had it coming. The parents and teachers and other adults, who didn’t know him like we knew him, murmured things like “such a shame” and “waste of potential” and “such a tragedy; he was only thirteen.” In the weeks and months after it happened, they squeezed our shoulders and patted our heads and, when they thought we weren’t looking, they quick wiped away quiet tears. But they weren’t really crying for Jason Mackey.



They were crying because they were worried about their own kids. Thinking it could have been little Janie or Sammy who died. They were crying for themselves and the hundred thousand stupid things they did when they were younger. The things that could have landed them in coffins. My grandma used to say, “It’s amazing any of us ever survive childhood.”



The third thing I can tell you is that it wasn’t the go-kart that killed him. It wasn’t the scarf either. The long one that he wrapped around his neck, so he looked like a real old-fashioned race car driver. The one that flew out behind him like a checkered flag and wound around the quick-spinning wheel of the go-kart. Strangling him. Snapping his neck. End of the race, Jason Mackey. There’s the finish line.



It could have been the rusty bait bucket that killed him. The one we all spat into. The one we dripped little drops of blood from our pricked fingertips into when we whisper-chanted the words my grandma carried up with her from the Deep South, from the moss and snake and magic-filled swamps of southern Louisiana where she was born and raised. My grandma used to say, “Sometimes with voodoo, bébé, you’re gonna need a little blood.”



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The summer after sixth grade was the summer of earaches. That’s what I think of first. The earaches. Not the sound that Jason’s neck made during his last go-kart ride. The earaches came out of nowhere. I was at the grocery store meat counter waiting for a hundred-thousand years while my grandma haggled with the butcher over ingredients for her special stew when something burst in my head. There was a whining hum, like a loud, fat mosquito had landed heavy on my lobe. Had let me know that it wasn’t going to bite me now, but it was coming for me. Through the window of the meat counter, the red and white marbled meat slabs wobbled in front of my eyes. The grocery store sounds of squeaky carts, soft Muzak, and screeching babies seemed like they were coming from underwater, rising from the bottom of the lake. That day, one ear filled up with searing evil. The next day, the other did too. I’d wake up with bloody earwax on my pillow.



Q-tips make me think of Jason Mackey too, but the Q-tips came later.



The earaches made it so I couldn’t shut my mouth all the way or hold my head straight because of the throbbing pain radiating down my jaw. I couldn’t go underwater when I went swimming in the lake. People who didn’t really know me thought I was special like my neighbor Gully who always drooled on herself and didn’t talk until she was nine.



My grandma was living with us that summer. The Louisiana hurricanes that usually just flooded her house had finally swallowed it whole.



But Grandma survived.



Grandma was tough. Grandma had grit. After the levees broke and the water rose to her rafters, she said she had perched on the peak of her roof for two days shooting the cottonmouths and water moccasins and alligators that slithered up from the storm surge in search of higher ground and humans to eat. She finally found an air mattress floating in the flood waters and paddled it through the muck and debris to safety. When she washed up on a street without water, she walked herself miles north to the nearest school that was still standing and lived on a cot until my mom could come down to claim her. “Momo’s just here for the summer,” grandma told me. “Just till the swamps drink all that stormwater back down.”



I got the feeling Grandma didn’t think much of my achy leaky northern ears or the doctors who kept poisoning me with different goopy, unnaturally pink antibiotics. “Cajuns make do,” she said. “Cajuns solve their own problems.”



Outside of my ruptured eardrums, my biggest problem was Jason Mackey.



He lived two houses away from me and there weren’t that many kids where we lived. Just me and Jason Mackey and Gully and the Zimmerman twins, Quinn and Constance. We lived on a cul-de-sac that backed onto a lake. Jason Mackey was the only one who actually had lake access. He never let us forget that. When we were going swimming or ice skating or fishing, he’d ask if we wanted to “access the lake” like he owned the entire body of water. Like it was Jason Mackey’s world and the rest of us just trespassed.



We were all friends in elementary school because that’s what you do in elementary school: you hang out with the kids whose houses you can walk to. It doesn’t matter what you have in common besides location. You’re bonded by addresses and the playdates your moms set up when you were babies. Jason and Quinn were best friends because they were the only two boys who lived on our circle of a street. Constance and I were best friends because we were the only two girls. I don’t know if we ever even liked each other, but we had those golden, half-heart necklaces to prove that we were inseparable forever. Gully was three years older than us but she was small-bodied and big-headed from some doctor’s mistake that happened when she was born. She was our honorary little-big sister, our pet.



After school, we’d all meet at our hideout, a secret place in the Zimmerman’s yard where two huge pines had grown together. Their branches had died where they touched, leaving a small but high-ceilinged room, a cathedral of dry needles and open space.



In the hideout, we were heroes planning quests and righting wrongs. We were knights and princesses, pirates with a view of the sea (but not an access to it), survivors of zombie plagues, wild west posses ready to hang the outlaw high. Jason was always the leader because he was a bossy and brave kind of kid. I’d help him strategize. Make his daydreams into practical plans of action. Whenever there were teams, we were on the same one.



In yearbook pictures and newspaper clippings and scouting badges and any other way you measure and record goodness, Jason Mackey was the best of us. He could run faster, speak better, keep his pants from getting holes in the knees for longer, save his allowance for big, important, go-karty things instead of blowing it on candy and imitation gold necklaces like the rest of us. He had everyone fooled.



But we knew.



Or maybe we didn’t know know. We never talked about it until after what happened to Gully, but something was there. Like the way they say the hair on your neck stands up before you get struck by lightning. Grandma said he had clouds around him.



Once during a snowball fight—me and Jason Mackey versus Quinn, Constance, and Gully—Jason filled all of his snowballs with gravel. I didn’t know it at first. We were all throwing and laughing, but Jason and I had so many snowballs that we beat the others all the way back to their yards. They retreated to the trees, and Jason, arms still full of gravel balls, turned toward me. I thought we were going to high five or something. For a second I thought maybe we should kiss. It was a stupid sixth-grade kind of feeling where my first kiss seemed right around every corner on every boy-face that had lips.



But when I looked in Jason Mackey’s eyes, it was like a light switch shut off behind them. He threw a gravel ball at my face as hard as he could. Ice and rocks exploded against my cheek, knocking me down, blacking my eye shut. I flipped over and tried to run and fell again and ripped the knee of my pants, but Jason kept throwing and throwing, thudding the heavy weaponized snowballs against my back and my snowsuit as I lay on the ground. He kept pounding and pounding like I was a stubborn nail he had to hammer down. Like he wanted to bury me under the rocks and ice. I kept yelling the same thing over and over like it would stop him. Like it mattered. “We’re on the same team!”



When he was out of ammo, he crunched over to me through the gravel-peppered snow. His gray and red moon boots stopped right in front of my face and became my whole world. With the eye that wasn’t swelled shut, I could see the little alligator logo some machine had punched into the rounded toe of his rubber sole. He crouched over me and yanked on the back of my jacket so that the cold air hit my hood-sweaty hair. He got real close so that I could feel his breath on my ringing ear and feel his lips brush against my earlobe as he whispered, “I win.”



I waited. Aching. Hot and cold. I didn’t think I was allowed to move. He breathed in my ear some more. “Let’s get some hot chocolate.”



Then he stood up and crunched up the front steps of his house. He left the storm door open, the light from the front hall shining its usual warm yellow welcome, like there was no reason why I wouldn’t follow him inside.



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Jason Mackey was mobile. He had mobility. He had a bike and a paddle boat and a canoe and rollerblades and a skateboard. After he died, people raised money to build a skate park and name it after him.



I haven’t gone to it.



Before he died, he was hard to keep up with and I never really knew where he was going. He hoarded his allowance to save up for the go-kart. He printed out go-kart pictures and hung them up all over his room. Even on his ceiling. His parents got so sick and tired of him asking about go-karts and talking about go-karts and Googling go-kart engine specs and wanting to go to go-kart tracks “just to watch” that they bought it for him for his thirteenth birthday. His last birthday. He’d worn them down.



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I didn’t stop being friends with him after the one-sided gravel-ball battle, but I kind of tried to make myself smaller when he was around. I’d try to be a little see-through. I’d let Quinn and Constance help Jason plan our quests. I’d let Jason yell a little louder and longer at Gully when she’d make those chirping noises she used to make when her throat muscles constricted.



Before my ears exploded, I was pretty good at being invisible, but with my mouth hinging open and shut to relieve the red, flaming pressure in my ear canals, and cotton-balls taped to the sides of my head to hold in my antibiotic drops, I stopped blending in. I was a mongoloid with medical ear muffs. I think that’s why Quinn and Constance voted that I should be the one to get a lock of his hair. “All the really strong hexes,” Grandma said, “demand hair.”



Locks of hair aren’t as easy to come by as they used to be. It seems like in the olden days everybody was just cutting off hair and giving it as gifts or keeping it as gross bookmarks in family bibles. Just married? Lock of hair. New baby? Lock of hair. Dead baby? Lock of hair.



Maybe if Jason, Quinn, Constance, and I had been friends a hundred years ago, we would have had locks of hair to spare. “Happy birthday. Here’s my hair! Love, Jason Mackey.”



That would have made things so much easier. As it was, I had to get near him to get it.



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The morning my grandma took my health into her own hands, I woke up wet with sweat. My whole entire head felt like it was packed with cotton balls. My parents were at work, so Grandma came in to give me my medicine. “You smell like roadkill, kid. Stewing in your juices.” She opened my window and let the summer air into my sickroom. With the shade up, I could see the round fist of our cul-de-sac and the houses of my friends who hadn’t come to see why I wasn’t going outside, to find out whether I was dead.



“You and your mother are a pair. Letting doctors take care of your problems with poisons that just keep you sick and weak and seeing more doctors.” Grandma twisted the cap off my medicine bottle and carefully poured a dose into the little, plastic medicine cup. “Your momma’s been up in the North too long. She don’t see things the way she used to.” Grandma sniffed the stuff in the cup, winked at me, and then poured my medicine out the window. I watched my hope for normal ears drip into the grass.



Outside my window, Grandma and I could see Gully limping around the cul-de-sac circle and Jason Mackey following her in his go-kart. It was hot out, but he still had his racing scarf tied around his neck. He was playing a game where he’d let her get a few feet ahead of him and then he’d rev the motor, step on the gas, and then slam on the brakes. He’d always stop just short of running her over. From where we were sitting, I couldn’t tell if Gully was in on the game or not. She seemed like she was laughing. She’d squeal when the go-kart nipped at her heels. Sometimes it felt so good to have Jason Mackey’s attention. No matter what you had to let him do to get it.



“People like you and I,” Grandma said, “we keep our eyes open.” Grandma reached into the folds of her dress and pulled out a piece of bread. She bit hunks of the bread off and worked them around in her mouth as she watched Jason Mackey step on the gas and slam on the brakes, step on the gas and slam on the brakes. With each squealing stop, his neck would jerk forward and back like it was on a spring.



Grandma spat the chewed-up bread into her hand and took a little baggy out of another secret dress fold. Her skirt must have been made of pockets.



“What are you doing?” I said.



“Packing your ears,” she said. “Momo’s curing you.” She sprinkled the bag’s powdery contents on the bread. “I brought up a little something from the cemetery where your great-grandmother’s sometimes buried.” She patty-caked the stuff around in her brown, cracked palms for a while and then divided it in two and rolled it into little voodoo dough balls.



My mom had told me about that place, considered it one of the many reasons why she left the South for college and never looked back. The graveyard was in the swamp. When the big storms would come, the bodies buried there would float up out of their graves and settle on the ground or in trees like boney branches, skeletal Spanish moss. People from the parish would wade through the water and try to gather their relatives, match bodies back up as best they could, and get the resurrected collection of parts back into graves. Even where we lived in Illinois, my mom would watch the weather roll off the plains and watch the lake creep out of its bed and say, “Be thankful you live where you live. In Louisiana, you’d be sorting skeletons after a storm like this.”



Grandma sat heavy on my bed and quick ripped the tape off the side of my head, tearing cheek skin and peach fuzz with it. She pulled the cotton balls out of my ears and replaced them with the spitty, cemetery-dirt bread. The world sounded like it was underwater.



“Down south, we know we got to work together,” Grandma said. “We know things don’t stay buried forever.”



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When I told the twins what Gully looked like when I found her by the lake and what we needed to do about it, I thought they would be hard to convince. But they were in. Right away. They must have had some twin meeting earlier in the summer or pressed their foreheads together and mind-melded or whatever twins did and decided that Jason Mackey was bad news.



They weren’t vegetarians or anything, but they liked animals and had plenty of pets around their house: shelter dogs, mostly-feral cats, broken-winged birds, a fish tank full of snails that the pet store was going to throw away because they weren’t actually pets, they’d just hitched a ride on some seaweed Jason Mackey’s parents bought for his fish tank. Quinn and Constance even named their house plants.



All that considered, I didn’t know if they would sign on for my voodoo quest.



Quinn told me later that he always hated the way Jason Mackey fished. They’d go out in his paddle boat with fresh worms and catch little bluegills and sunfish. Instead of letting them go or bringing them home for fish fry, Jason would keep a fish on the line. He’d say he was using it as bait, trolling for musky or pike. The fish, hooked through the lip or gill or guts, would try to keep up with the slap slap slap of the paddle boat. Jason Mackey would string it along until it just couldn’t swim anymore. Once, when Quinn told him to quit it, Jason started swinging his pole around, slapping a little fish against the water and the side of the paddle boat, whipping and re-casting the fish again and again until its lip ripped and it splashed back into the water. Quinn said he found the fish washed up on shore later that day. He buried it in the sand.



Constance told me later that she stopped crushing on Jason Mackey when she realized what happened to all the tame lake ducks she used to feed near Jason Mackey’s lake-access lot. She would leave bread out for them, but she kept seeing fewer and fewer ducks and more and more leftover bread. One morning, she hid in the hideout to see what was happening. She saw the dumb little ducks quack their way up the shore, then she saw Jason Mackey walk out of his house slowly. He was carrying a golf club. He waded into the waddling line of ducks. He used their heads as balls and their necks as tees.



I thought they hated him because of that summer’s toad quest. It was a humid, swampy night, like the air itself was sweating. Jason gathered us in the hideout and told us to round up as many toads as we could. The twins knew where to look and knew what to name every toad they found. Gully waited in the hideout holding the rusty old bait bucket and we sprinted around the lake and dug into wood piles and pine needles and peered under piers until we had a quivering, croaking pile of toads. I thought we were going to have a jumping contest or find our teacher’s address in the phone book, sneak into her bedroom, and set the toads free in her underwear drawer, but Jason had other plans.



“Hop or pop,” he said. He’d been building a little fire outside of the hideout while the rest of us were questing. I knew it was too hot for fires.



“Like the Dr. Seuss book?” Constance said.



“That’s Hop on Pop, stupid,” Quinn said.



Jason grabbed the tin toad bucket from Gully and brought it over to the fire. “Hop or pop,” he said again. “We put the bucket in the fire and see which toads hop out and which toads explode like popcorn.”



Before we could grab him or run to find someone to stop him, he threw the bucket into the fire. Flames blackened its sides. Constance screamed. The toads chirped fast and frantic. Or maybe it was Gully. She tried to grab the bucket out, but recoiled when the thin metal handle instantly blistered her hands. Quinn kicked at the bucket and knocked it over, but it wasn’t out of the flames. Frantic toads clambered over each other to get away. Quinn and Constance grabbed into the coals, trying to scoop out sizzling toads, and got twin sets of burns on their twin sets of palms. I just stood there watching Jason Mackey’s lips as he licked them, as he whispered, “Pop. Pop. Pop.”



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I don’t know if Grandma was a good cook. I don’t know if her particular style of Cajun was authentic or just salty because the most Cajun-y cooking I’d had before she moved in was the crispy chicken from Popeyes. My mom was more of a microwaver. But Grandma had a way of putting things in a big, burned-black metal pot and stirring them together with a wooden spoon and wafting the steam toward her crooked nose with her long, bony fingers, and whispering to the bubbling food with her beautiful, back-woods drawl that convinced you that whatever she was making must be magic.



We were in the kitchen cooking what she called “Day-bree.” It sounded so exotic. Day-bree. Something the French must have invented at some spectacular plantation home in New Orleans. Day-bree. The stew looked like some kind of tomato and noodle concoction, like gourmet Spaghetti-O's. I breathed in the fingers of steam hoping they would fly up my nose and flick the infection out of my ears. The spitty bread hadn’t worked any miracles yet, and my grandma kept pouring out my real medicine. Every morning, dose after dose went to our lawn. Our grass was definitely not going to get an ear infection and I was probably going to go deaf from moldy bread. But I hadn’t fished the bread out of my ears either. I wanted to believe that my Grandma had some kind of answers that other people had forgotten about or hadn’t bothered to learn.



“What’s in this recipe, Momo?”



“Anything that’s left over, bébé. The day-bree of a calf after the butcher’s been at it.”



She threw some meat chunks into the pot. That’s the first time I noticed that I hadn’t been helping her cook elbow macaroni. The noodles were arteries. The broth was blood.



“There’s a few key parts and flavors,” she said. “But the rest of the stuff is more of an art than a recipe. The ingredients aren’t as important as the intent.” She whispered to the chunks of left-over calf in something like French as she threw them into the pot.



“What are you saying?” I asked.



“I’m telling it to become,” she said.



“Become what?”



She turned from the pot and looked me up and down. I had been practicing my junior-high invisibility, getting ready for seventh grade, so her stare was a lot to handle. I tugged at the tape covering the cotton balls covering my bread-packed ears and watched the bubbles forming and bursting in the pot.



“You’re not pretty like your friend Constance,” she said.



I shrugged and tried to shrink a little more.



“And you’re not retarded like your friend, Gully,” she said.



“Don’t say the R-word, Momo,” I said.



Grandma quick jerked the wooden spoon out of the pot. I thought she was going to smack me with it, but she pressed it to my forehead and drew some kind of symbol with the Day-bree. It was hot like sunburn, like the salt and the spirit of the leftover baby cow parts were seeping into me. Grandma whispered the French-like words to the stew on my head and then kissed the mark away.



“There,” she said. “I’m telling you to become, too.”

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Maybe it was the calf blood and salt on my forehead. Maybe it was the few doses of antibiotics I was able to take when Grandma wasn’t looking, but I started to feel like I could function again. I started to feel like I could really go on a quest to right some wrongs. I felt like I could get Jason Mackey’s hair.



My first idea was to grab an old hair hunk from his hair brush, but his hair probably wasn’t long enough that it would even hunk on the brush bristles. And I didn’t know if his family had multiple brushes or if they all shared the same one. I didn’t want to accidentally grab and then voodoo some of his mom’s hair. She was nice enough. She was talk-on-the-phone friends with my mom. It probably wasn’t Jason Mackey’s mom’s fault that he was so awful. She might not have even known. Can parents ever know what their kids are really thinking? What we’re really like?



I started carrying small safety scissors around in my pocket and looking for opportunities to pull off the Great Hair Heist, but every idea I had for getting his hair seemed really really stupid.



“Hey, Jason Mackey. Let’s play Barber Shop!”



“Hey, Jason Mackey. Let’s kiss like they do in movies, all mouths and tongues and hands, so I can wrap my arms around your neck and snip off some of your hair.”



“Hey, Jason Mackey. I have ear cancer and I’m going to lose my hair because of ear cancer chemotherapy. Want to shave your head in solidarity and then give me your hair for a reason that has nothing to do with voodoo?”



Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.



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It turned out, all I had to do was ring his doorbell, like I’d done a hundred thousand times before. The safety scissors were still in my pocket, slick with my hand sweat. Jason Mackey opened the door.



“It’s August, idiot. You can take off those earmuffs.” He slapped the side of my head, sending reverberations through my skull like a gong.



With my scissor-less hand, I grabbed the other side of my head to stop the world from vibrating. “They’re holding the medicine in,” I said.



“They’re making you look like an r-tard.”



“It’s still a bad word, even if you only say half.”



“Whatever, word police.” Jason Mackey turned and walked back inside but left the screen door open. I followed him, like always. We headed to his room. It was wallpapered with go-kart pictures that he’d printed from the internet and cut out of the go-karting magazines he subscribed to. His room smelled like boy. Like socks and sweat and something else that I hated and liked. Half of me wanted to throw open the window and get some air. The other half wanted to lie down on his bed and smell his pillow. Breathe in where he’d been breathing out. But I was on a mission.



“Do we have a quest tonight?” I asked.



“I’m racing,” he said.



I stood in the middle of his room like the idiot he thought I was, trying to look like I wasn’t trying to steal some of his hair. He went into his closet and brought out a brown cardboard box labeled Goodwill.



“Look what I found,” he said. He rummaged through the junk box and pulled out an old plastic horse. “Didn’t you give this to me in first grade?”



“I don’t remember,” I said. That was a lie. I remembered every single present and card I ever got for Jason Mackey. I remember every scrap of wrapping paper I ever wrapped those presents in. The horse was just about big enough for a Barbie to ride on, but it was a boy toy. Some kind of cowboy thing from when we were all being sheriffs and outlaws. When I found it in the toy store, it looked like a lawman’s horse to me.



“Wait a minute,” Jason said. He ran out of the room real excited and came back with a handful of Q-Tips.



I melted like a birthday candle. Like a gravel snowball in sunshine. I thought the Q-tips were for me. I thought he was going to pull the tape off my head, ever so gently, slide the cotton balls and moldy bread out of my ears, and then slowly, carefully, Q-Tip the bloody earwax out of my ear canals. I imagined his hand on my cheek, holding my head steady. His grip would be sure and righteous, like a sheriff about to gun down the outlaw who killed his wife. I thought about hearing again. About being normal again.



Then Jason Mackey broke the Q-Tip in half and fed it to the plastic horse. He shoved the cotton-y head into the horse’s mouth and then grabbed the horse’s hard plastic tail and pumped it up and down. The horse’s plastic jaw hinged open and closed around the Q-Tip. A small plastic gear in the horse’s mouth pulled the Q-Tip along, swallowing it down. He kept pumping the plastic tail. The horse kept chewing even though the Q-Tip was somewhere inside of it now, working its way through those hollow innards. Finally, the Q-Tip popped out the back of the horse and landed on the floor.



“I didn’t know it did that,” I said. “I thought it was a sheriff’s horse. A hero horse.”



“It was a shit horse,” Jason said. He threw the toy to the ground and walked out of the room. I knelt to find the horse, to save it from Goodwill, but I found Jason Mackey’s go-cart helmet instead.



I grabbed the helmet off the floor and looked inside. A few strands of his dark brown hair clung to the padding. I picked them out as carefully as I could, using my fingernails like tweezers. It wasn’t a lot. It definitely didn’t seem like a lock-full, however much that was, but I hoped it would be enough.



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While Jason Mackey was sleeping, the twins and I met beneath the fused-pine branches of our hideout and lit a fire inside the blackened tin bait bucket that smelled like burnt toads. While he was snoring, we pricked our fingers and dribbled drops of blood inside. While he was drooling on his pillow, I sprinkled in the few strands of Jason hair that I had stolen. While he dreamed of checkered flags, we threw in Gully’s bloody underwear and recited the kind-of-French words my Grandma had written down on a recipe card. I burned the recipe card too. Quinn and Constance looked serious in the light of the little fire. Constance’s golden best friend necklace glinted, reflecting the flames. We were all inseparable now. Forever.



Later, when the fire died down, we took the ashes and snuck into Jason Mackey’s garage. We spread them into the go-kart’s driver’s seat. We rubbed them on the wheels. We wrapped our hands around the steering wheel and worked the ashes into the rubber-like we were giving it Indian burns. Then, we crept silently back to our own houses to wash our hands and sink into a dark and dreamless sleep.



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The next day was Jason Mackey’s last race. Quinn and Constance stayed home. Gully was wandering around somewhere, but the race track was too loud for her. She would have had to cover her ears. I watched Jason Mackey climb into his go-kart. His scarf flew out behind him. He really did look like an old-fashioned racecar driver. I watched the wind grab the scarf and wave it around. Then I watched the wind change as Jason Mackey changed directions.



I thought about Gully. The way I’d found her. She was sitting on the shore of the lake with her legs in the water and her head in the cattails like she’d washed up there. Like she was some junk fish a fisherman had smashed against his boat and then thrown back. I splashed into the water to help her up. I thought about leeches. She was probably getting sucked dry by leeches sitting in the weeds without any sense. I started to yell at her to stop being stupid like Jason would, but then I noticed her torn sundress, the scratches on her arms and thighs, the way she was holding a scrap of something in her white, tight fists. I grabbed her arms and pulled her head up out of the muck.



“Wash,” she said. She handed me the thing she was holding. It was her bloody underwear. “Jason,” she said.



I sank down in the water next to Gully. There was a small leech on her ankle. At first, it looked like a piece of mud or debris that had floated up out of the water, but then its tail moved. Just a little. Just enough to get a better hold on her so it could suck out more of her blood. It was a baby leech, but it was getting bigger with each gulp of Gully.



“Jason,” I said. I thought about all his stupid grins in his stupid yearbook pictures back all the way to first grade when I gave him that horse. When I thought he would be a hero. The leech kept sucking. Kept growing sip by sip. I quick ripped it off Gully’s ankle. I thought about throwing it back in the water. But it would keep growing there. It would find a fish or a toad or another girl like Gully who just couldn’t keep her feet out of the water.



I dug my nail into the leech and raked at its wiggling black sides. I shredded it up. Then I threw it onto a hot sunny rock to shrivel. Then I pulled Gully out of the water and took her home. Then I found my grandma in our kitchen. “Momo,” I said, “I need one of your recipes.”



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In the dry-grass field, Jason Mackey cut the wheel of his go-kart again. He pumped his fist like he thought he was some kind of champion. Some kind of hero.



You should have been better, Jason Mackey. You should have acted better. You should have been nicer. You should have paid more attention. You shouldn’t have popped all those toads. You shouldn’t have hurt Gully.



You should have picked me.



I remembered what my grandma said about sitting on top of her house during that hurricane, about watching the water rise, about seeing the snakes slither up looking so dead-eyed and hungry. “Sometimes, bébé,” she told me, “some things just need killing.”



Under the moldy bread and bandages, I could feel my ear canals pop and drain and open up. Everything was louder than before. Jason Mackey’s go-kart engine whined like an angry mosquito as he took a sharp turn. The wheel, always ready, always spinning, grabbed the scarf and devoured it. Wrapping the scarf so tight around the axel and around Jason Mackey’s neck that the go-kart would never go again.



   
   

 

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Gillian King-Cargile is the author of several weird stories for adults and children. She earned her MFA in Creative Writing from Southern Illinois University and is the founder and director of STEM Read (stemread.com) at Northern Illinois University. Her short fiction has also appeared in Carve Magazine, River Styx, Every Day Fiction, and other publications. She lives with her family in DeKalb, Illinois, the birthplace of barbed wire and Cindy Crawford. You can find Gillian on Twitter at @gkingcargile.



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