Everybody said the problem with Flint Johnson was he got his bell rung by Jamie Jenkins in the fourth grade. Jamie had knocked him cold with a piece of scrap rebar and the poor bastard pissed his Dickies in front of the whole school. Years later, the talk around town was that Flint’s blow to the head was what made him do all those terrible things. But I knew better. Flint had a demon in him, same as his daddy.
I was a year younger than Flint growin up, but we walked the three miles to school together every day cause we was neighbors. He didn’t like me much, but he didn’t have no friends, and he loved the yellow cake momma put in my lunch box every day.
One mornin we was half way to school when a wounded buck jumped out of the tree line and collapsed on the dirt road. It’d been gut shot and there was a string of blue intestines trailin behind it. They had leaves and pine needles stuck to em and looked like that blue tinsel momma kept for the Christmas tree. Flint never hesitated, he pulled out his rusty old pocket knife and slit that buck’s throat in one clean move. As we walked on, he wiped the blood from his hands on some fallen Sycamore leaves.
“That was a good thing you did back there.” I said. “Puttin that buck out of his misery.”
Flint showed his rotten yellow teeth. “It wern’t no mercy killin dumbass. I just like the way the blade feels goin in and the hot blood on my hands.”
I never said another word about that buck. There was a look in Flint’s eyes that day that spooked me. It was the same look his daddy had when he’d go on a bender and beat Flint’s momma with a cornbread skillet.
By the time we got to high school, I had filled out pretty good, but Flint hadn’t changed much; he was just bigger and meaner. I had saved up some money mowin yards and bought an old 74 Dodge Dart Swinger. I started givin Flint a ride to school every mornin even tho I didn’t have to. I guess it was just habit. He’d sit quiet and grunt whenever I asked him somethin, picking at the dirt under his fingernails.
After his daddy died, I noticed a change in Flint. The old man didn’t leave nothin behind but the shack they lived in, and Flint’s momma had to take in a renter to cover the bills; some kind of surveyor for the state. I remember hearin later, after the mess downtown, that Phyllis Belmont was the one who found what was left of him, nailed to the oak tree behind the ball field. He’d been cut balls to chin and his guts pulled out.
On the last day of school I picked Flint up like always, only I could tell somethin was off. He was nervous and couldn’t sit still. Before we reached the turn that led out to the high school, he spoke up.
“Hey Eugene, do me a favor and drop me off over at the hardware store would ya?”
I wanted to ask him why, but when I saw that look, like the day he finished off the buck, I took a right at the intersection and let him out at Jenkin’s hardware without a word.
It was lunch time before the news got around. A customer had found Jamie Jenkin’s daddy, cold as a stone with a piece of rebar stuck through his neck. Mrs. Jenkin’s was out back, tied up with bailin wire and neckid as a jay bird. They say she didn’t speak for a month. The Sheriff found Flint eatin an ice cream cone over at the Dixie Freeze, blood drippin down his bib overalls.
Some still say it was that shot to the head that made him crazy, but I knew Flint. He had a darkness deep down in his bones. I think he tried to fight it, but it was like a gatherin storm, and when it broke, it just couldn’t be stopped.