Sacrificial Rites

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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.

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