Sacrificial Rites


At the sound of the gunshot, the boys freeze. A tall chain-link fence, rusted and covered with kudzu, separates them from a junkyard of vehicle carcasses stacked three- and four-high. They’re not trespassing. Not doing anything illegal. So the face of each thirteen-year-old assumes a look of dumpy-cherub innocence. The taller of the two dropkicks a red plastic two-gallon gas can behind the rusted ruins of an ’84 Honda hatchback. From around the corner of the junkyard trailer, a voice shouts, “Who did it? Which one of you little shits fuckin’ did it!?”

The two boys cringe at the sight of the large man stomping in their direction. He looks, with flushed face and coveralls oil-stained, dirt-smeared, like a redneck Mephistopheles freshly burrowed up from hell. He shouts: “Fess up! Which of you bat-shit crazy little fucks did it?!”  

The blonde boy— thin body, pimple-studded face—twitches his hand from his crotch. It’s enough for the man.

He takes the blonde to the ground in a headlock. The littered terrain beneath him—a hodgepodge collection of grit, rocks, washers, bolts, used sparkplugs, and a few frantic strands of seared grass—digs into the boy’s skin. With his free hand, the man slings the other boy, a redhead with an overbite and an arrogant pug nose, hard against the fence. The man takes from his chest pocket a Zippo lighter, spilling his pack of Marlboros as he does. He places his weight against the boy’s back and holds the right arm firmly to the ground. The man lights the Zippo and begins to burn the blonde’s right tricep. Screaming and squirming, the boy tussles underneath the man as his friend staggers against the fence, the whole spectacle looking like a sideshow wrestling match between two dwarves and a giant.

The blonde struggles. The man will not be moved. The boy chokes, splutters, before managing a scream. The redhead pulls himself off the ground. The redhead, not the brawn of the pair, gives the back of the man’s neck a weak open-handed slap as though swatting a fly. The man backhands him in return sending him back to the ground.

He releases the blonde. Turns to the pug-nosed redhead. Using his weight, the man presses the boy’s back against the fence forcing his flesh through the chain-link patches. The boy’s face is in the man’s chest. His cheeks smear with oil, sweat soaks his face. The man holds the boy’s left wrist up and out from his body. He lights the Zippo. The screams come again.

Finally, the man steps away and the redhead falls to the ground. The two boys lie together at the man’s feet like two penitents wallowing in the earth before a filthy and petulant deity. Panting, he puts away the Zippo.

“Don’t ever set animals on fire again. Nothing likes to burn and I don’t like having to shoot them.”

The man gives the blonde a quick kick and shouts, “Get on.” The boys stumble away, cutting through the maze of crushed cars, their sacrifice spoiled, their bodies marked.

~ fin ~

Five words. Two on either end. Will framed.
No one will ever know.
-Hey, with that bed sheet wrapped around you, you kind of look like a Roman empress looking down on her people.

-Yoo-hoo. Your majesty….

-Hey. Are you OK?
-We shouldn’t be here.

-Well, I’ll admit…the Hyatt is closer to my office. The ceilings are higher in those rooms too, but this place isn’t that bad. Room service was prompt.
-No, I mean we shouldn’t be here. Doing this.

-God, I just never thought something like this could happen to me. I never wanted to end up like this.
-End up like how?
-I don’t know. A cliché.

-There’s nothing cliché about this.
-Oh, we’re lousy with cliché.

-Maybe it’s genetic.
-What? Genetic? What do you mean genetic?
-My uncle had an affair.
-It destroyed his life. Things were never the same with my uncle and my aunt after she found out about it. A few years later when my aunt developed cervical cancer? My uncle blamed his infidelity for it.
-That’s ridiculous.
-Karma? Please. This is our choice, honey.
-I know.

-Well, you know how I feel about you. I suppose I could just pull the brakes and stop but you know I won’t. Stopping this goes against everything forcing through me right now. The things we’ve done, the world is completely different for me now. It feels like I’m on fire, like I’ve been given this second chance.
-At what?
-Easy for you to say, you’re divorced.

-Come back to bed.
-Jesus Christ, you scared the shit out of me. Oh. Oh my God. You’re—

-Look, I appreciate you coming down here to confront me face to face, I mean, if you’re looking to take a swing at me or something I’m going to tell you right here and now there’s cameras in this garage.

-Don’t do something you might regret. Like I said, ther’s cameras. There’s one right over there—


-What can I possibly say? That I’m sorry? Okay, I will be honest with you. I am sorry. I regret what I did, I’m mortified by it, but the truth is it was almost two years ago. In the end your wife saw it for what it was—an affair. It was stupid. Stupid and rash and stupid.

-Say something.

-You just going to stand there?

-Hey, look. Iin the end she came back to you, right? And Jesus Christ that has to mean something, right? She chose you, not me. I remember how she kept saying to me all the time that you were such a good man, that you didn’t deserve it, that she still loved you in so many ways. I’ll admit, at the time I couldn’t stand the thought of losing her to you, but when she called it off I’d hoped when she’d never tell you. That we’d keep it a secret. She promised me that she never would but these things…

-I guess they can eat at you.
DATE OF BIRTH/AGE: May 15, 1968 –
MISSING FROM: Washington, DC
HEIGHT: 6’ 2”
WEIGHT: 197 pounds
RACE: White
CLOTHING/JEWELRY: Dark suit, Tag Heuer wrist watch, inscribed July 3, 2005
CIRCUMSTANCES OF DISAPPEARANCE: Danforth was last seen leaving his office in downtown Washington, DC early in the evening of June 3, 2011. His car was found in his building’s parking garage.
CONTACT: Washington Metropolitan Police
CASE #: 567980-D
Five words. Two on either end. Will framed.
No one will ever know.