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Dark places, p.30

Dark Places, page 30


Dark Places

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  He was right. It was one reason I’d stayed immobile for so many years. I threw something else out: “And what about Trey Teepano?”

  “Trey Teepano.”

  “I know he was a bookie, and that he was into Devil shit, and that he was a friend of yours, and he was with you that night. With Diondra. That all seems pretty fucked up.”

  “Where’d you get all that?” Ben looked me in the eye, then raised his gaze up, gave a long stare at my red roots that were to my ears now.

  “Dad told me. He said he owed Trey Teepano money and—”

  “Dad? He’s Dad now?”

  “Runner said—”

  “Runner said fuck-all. You need to grow up, Libby. You need to pick a side. You can spend the rest of your life trying to figure out what happened, trying to reason. Or you can just trust yourself. Pick a side. Be on mine. It’s better.”

  Ben Day

  JANUARY 2, 1985

  10:23 P.M.

  They drove out past the edge of town, the road going from cement to dirt, Ben rattling around in the backseat, hands pressed up against the top of the truck, trying to stay in place. He was stoned, real stoned, and his teeth and head rattled. You got a screw loose? He had two or three loose. He wanted to sleep. Eat first, then sleep. He watched the lights of Kinnakee fade away and then it was miles of glowing blue snow, a patch of grass here, a jagged scar of fence there, but mostly snow like the surface of the moon. Like he really was in outer space, on another planet, and he wasn’t going home, ever.

  They turned down some road, trees sucking them in, tunnel-like on all sides and he realized he had no idea where they were. He just hoped whatever was about to happen was over soon. He wanted a hamburger. His mom made crazy hamburgers, called them kitchen-sinkers, fattened up cheap ground meat with onions and macaroni and whatever else crap was about to go bad. One time he swore he found part of a banana, glopped over with ketchup—his mom thought ketchup made everything OK. It didn’t, her cooking sucked, but he’d eat one of those hamburgers right now. He was thinking I’m so hungry I could eat a cow. And then, as if his food-prayer worked, he refocused his eyes from a gritty stain on the backseat to the outside and there were ten or twenty Herefords standing in the snow for no reason. There was a barn nearby but no sign of a house, and the cows were too dumb to walk back into the barn, so they stood like a bunch of fat assholes, blowing steam from their nostrils. Herefords were the ugliest cows around, giant, rusty, with white crinkled faces and pink-rimmed eyes. Jersey cows were sort of sweet looking, they had those big deer faces, but Herefords looked prehistoric, belligerent, mean. The things had furry thick waddles and curvy-sharp horns and when Trey pulled to a stop, Ben felt a flurry of nerves. Something bad was going to happen.

  “We’re here,” Trey said as they sat in the car, the heater turned off, the cold creeping in. “All out.” Trey reached over Diondra into the glove compartment—here grazing Diondra’s baby belly, them both giving weird smiles again—grabbed a cassette and popped it in the deck. The frenetic, zigzag music started scribbling on Ben’s brain.

  “Come on, Ben,” Trey said, crunching down on the snow. He pulled up the driver’s seat to let Ben out, and Ben stumbled to the ground, missing the step, Trey grabbing hold of him. “Time for you to get some understanding, feel some power. You’re a dad soon, dude.” Trey shook him by both shoulders. “A dad!” His voice sounded friendly enough but he didn’t smile. He just stared with his lips tight and his eyes red-rimmed, almost bloody. Deciding. He had a deciding look. Then Trey let go, cuffed his jean jacket, and went around to the back of the truck. Ben tried to see across the hood, catch Diondra’s eyes, flash her a whatthefuck look, but she was leaning down into the cab, pulling another baggie out from under her seat, groaning with one hand on her belly, like it was really hard to bend down half a foot. She came back up, hand crooked on her back now and began digging around in the baggie. It was filled with foil gum wrappers and she pulled three out.

  “Give it,” Trey said, stuck two in his pocket and unwrapped the third. “You and Ben can share.”

  “I don’t want to share,” Diondra whined. “I feel like shit, I need a whole one.”

  Trey gave a frustrated sigh, then shot one packet out at her, muttering Jesus Christ.

  “What is that stuff?” Ben finally asked. He could feel that warm trickle on his head, knew he was bleeding again. His headache was worse too, throbbing behind his left eye, down his neck and into his shoulder, like an infection moving through his system. He rubbed at his neck, it felt like someone had tied a garden hose in knots and planted it under his skin.

  “It’s Devil rush, dude, ever had it?” Trey poured the powdery stuff into one palm and leaned into it like a horse to sugar, then made a shotgun of a snort, threw his head back, stumbled a few steps backward, then looked at them like they had no business being there. A ring of deep orange covered his nose and mouth.

  “The fuck you looking at, Ben Day?”

  Trey’s pupils jittered back and forth like he was following an invisible hummingbird. Diondra sucked up hers in the same greedy, animal snort, then fell straight to her knees laughing. It was a laugh of joy for three seconds, and then it turned into a wet, choking laugh, the kind you give when you just can’t believe your shitty luck, that kind of laugh. She was crying and cackling, lowering herself onto the snow, laughing on her hands and knees and then she was throwing up, nacho cheese and thick strings of spaghetti that almost smelled good in their sweet vomit sauce. Diondra still had a string of spaghetti hanging out of her mouth when she looked up. The strand hung there for a second, before she realized, then she pulled it out, Ben picturing the noodle still half down her throat, tickling its way up. She flung it to the ground still crying on all fours—and as she looked at it, she started in on that scrunched-face baby-bawl his sisters did when they got hurt. The end-of-the-world cry.

  “Diondra, you OK, ba-?” he started.

  She lurched forward and threw the rest up near Ben’s feet. He got out of the way of the spatter and stood, watching Diondra on all fours, weeping.

  “My daddy’s going to kill me!” she wailed again, sweat wetting the roots of her hair. Her face twisted as she glared down at her belly. “He will kill me.”

  Trey was only looking at Ben, tuning Diondra out entirely, and he made a gesture with a single finger, a flick that meant Ben should stop stalling and take the Devil rush. He put his nose down near it and smelled old erasers and baking soda.

  “What is it, like cocaine?”

  “Like battery acid for your brain. Pour it in.”

  “Man I already feel like crap, I don’t know if I need this stuff. I’m fucking hungry, man.”

  “For what’s about to happen, you need it. Do it.”

  Diondra was giggling again, her face white under the beige foundation. A nacho crumble was floating toward Ben’s foot on a runny pink stream. He moved. Then turned away from them, toward the watching cows, poured the powder into his palm and let it start to float off on the wind. When it was down to a pile the size of a quarter, he sniffed it, loud and fake as they had, and still only took part of it up his nose.

  Which was good, because it shot straight into his brain, harsh as chlorine but with even more sting, and he could picture it crackling out like tree branches, burning the veins in his head. It felt like his whole bloodstream had turned to hot tin, even his wrist bones started to ache. His bowels shifted like a snake waking up, and for a second he thought he might crap himself, but instead he sneezed up some beer, lost his sight and tumbled onto the ground, his head throbbing open, the blood pulsing down his face with each squeeze. He felt like he could run eighty miles an hour, and that he should, that if he stayed where he was, his chest would crack open and some demon would bust out, shake Ben’s blood off its wings, crook its head at the idea of being stuck in this world, and fly into the sky, trying to get back to hell. And then as soon as he thought he needed a gun, shoot himself and end this, came a big air bubble of
relief that spread through him, soothed his veins, and he realized he’d been holding his breath and started gulping air, and then felt fucking good. Fucking smart to breathe air, that’s what it was. He felt he was expanding, turning big, undeniable. Like no matter what he did, it was the right choice, yes sir, sure thing, like he could line up all the skyful of choices he’d need to make in the coming months and he could shoot them down like carnival animals and win something big. Huge. Hurray for Ben, up on everyone’s shoulders so the world can fucking cheer.

  “What the hell is this stuff?” he asked. His voice sounded solid, like a heavy door with a good swing to it.

  Trey ignored him, glanced at Diondra, pulling herself up from the ground, her fingers red from where she’d buried them in the ice. He seemed to sneer at her without realizing it. Then he fished around in the back of his pickup, swung back around with an axe, glowing as blue as the snow. He handed it out toward Ben, blade first, and Ben let his arms go tight to his sides, nononno can’t make me take it, like he was a kid being asked to hold a crying newborn, nononono.

  “Take it.”

  Ben gripped it, cold in his hands, rusty stains on the point. “Is this blood?”

  Trey gave one of his lazy side glances, didn’t bother answering.

  “Oh, I want the axe!” Diondra squealed. She made a skip over to the truck, Ben wondering if they were fucking with him as usual.

  “Too heavy for you, take the hunting knife.”

  Diondra twisted back and forth in her coat, the fur-trim of the hood bouncing up and down.

  “I don’t want the knife, too small, give Ben the knife, he hunts.”

  “Then Ben gets this too,” Trey said, and handed him a 10-gauge shotgun.

  “Let me have the gun, then, I’ll take that,” Diondra said.

  Trey took her hand, opened it, folded the Bowie inside of it.

  “It’s sharp so don’t fuck around.”

  But wasn’t that just what they were doing, fucking around?

  “BenGay, wipe your face, you’re dripping blood everywhere.”

  Axe in one hand, shotgun in the other, Ben wiped his face on his sleeve and came away woozy. More blood kept coming, it was in his hair now, and smeared over one eye. He was freezing and remembered that’s what happened when you bled to death, you got cold, and then he realized it would be crazy not to be cold, him in his thin little Diondra jacket, his entire torso prickly with goosepimples.

  Trey pulled out a massive pick-axe last, its blade so sharp it looked like an icicle sliver. He slung it over his shoulder, a man going to work. Diondra was still pouting at the knife, and Trey snapped at her.

  “You want to say it?” he said. “You want to do it?”

  She pulled out of the sulk, nodded briskly, set her knife in the middle of the accidental circle they were standing in. But no, not accidental, because then Trey put his pick-axe next to the Bowie, and motioned for Ben to do the same, gave him this impatient gesture like a parent whose kid has forgotten to say grace. So Ben did, piled the shotgun and the axe on top, that pile of glinting, sharp metal making Ben’s heart pound.

  Suddenly Diondra and Trey were grabbing his hands, Trey’s grip tight and hot, Diondra’s limp, sticky, as they stood in a circle around their weapons. The moonlight was making everything glow. Diondra’s face looked like a mask, all hollows and hills, and when she thrust her chin up toward the moon, between her open mouth and the pile of metal Ben got a hard-on and didn’t care. His brain was sizzling somewhere in the back of his consciousness, his brain was literally frying, and then Diondra was chanting.

  “To Satan we bring you sacrifice, we bring you pain, and blood, and fear, and rage, the basis of human life. We honor you, Dark One. In your power, we become more powerful, in your exaltation, we become exalted.”

  Ben didn’t know what the words meant. Diondra prayed all the time. She prayed in church, like normal people, but she also prayed to goddesses, and geodes and crystals and shit. She was always looking for help.

  “We’re going to make your baby a fucking warrior tonight, Dio,” Trey said.

  They disbanded then, everyone picking up their weapons, silently marching into the field, the snow making a rubbery sound as they stomped through it, breaking its top crust. Ben’s feet felt literally frozen, separate things, unnaturally attached to him. But it didn’t really matter, not this, not much of anything mattered, they were in a bubble tonight, nothing had any consequence, and as long as he could stay in the bubble, everything would be OK.

  “Which one, Diondra?” Trey said, as they came to a stop. Four Herefords stood nearby, unmoving in the snow, finding the humans unworrying. Limited imaginations.

  Diondra paused, pointed a finger around—a silent eeny-meeny-miny-mo—and then rested on the largest one, a bull with a grotesque, furry dribble of cock slung down toward the snow. Diondra pulled her mouth back in a vampire smile, her canine teeth bared, and Ben waited for a fight-cry, a charge, but instead she just strode. Three long, snow-clumsy strides up to the bull, who took only one step away before she jammed the hunting knife through its throat.

  It’s happening, Ben thought. Here it is, happening. A sacrifice to Satan.

  The bull was leaking blood like oil, dark and thick—glug, glug, and then all of a sudden it twitched, the vein shifted or something, and blood sprayed out, an angry mist, coating them in specks of red, their faces, their clothes, their hair. Diondra was screaming now, finally, as if this first part had been underwater and she burst through suddenly, her cries echoing off the ice. She stabbed at the bull’s face, chopped its left eye into a mess, the eye rolling back into its head, slick and blood-black. The bull stumbled in the snow, clumsy and confused, sounding like a sleeper awakened to an emergency— frightened but dull. Blood spatters all over its white curly fur. Trey raised his blade toward the moon, made a whooping cry, slung his chopper hard underhand and buried it in the animal’s gut. The thing’s hindquarters gave out for a second, then it bucked up, started to trot drunkenly. The other cows had widened the circle around it, like kids at a fight, watching and lowing.

  “Get him,” Diondra yelled. Trey took big loping hops through the snow, his legs kicked high as if he were dancing, his axe circling through the air. He was singing to Satan, and then mid-lyric, he brought the axe down on the animal’s back, breaking its spinal cord, dropping it to the snow. Ben didn’t move. To move meant he could partake and he didn’t want to, he didn’t want to feel that bull’s flesh breaking open under him, not because it was wrong but because it might feel too good to him, like the weed, where the first time he took a drag he knew he’d never quit it. Like the smoke found a place inside him that had been left hollow just for the smoke, and had curled up in there. There might be a space too, for this. The feel of killing, there might be an empty spot just waiting to be filled.

  “Come on, Ben, don’t puss out on us now,” Trey called, heaving gulps of air after a third, a fourth, a fifth axe chop.

  The bull was on its side, moaning now, a mournful, otherworldy mewing, the way a dinosaur in a tar pit might have sounded—dreadful, dying, stunned.

  “Come on, Ben, get your kill. You can’t come and just stand,” Diondra yelled, making standing sound like the most worthless thing in the world. The bull looked up at her from the ground, and she started stabbing it in the jowls, a quick, efficient jab, her teeth gritted, screaming, “Fucker!” as she stabbed it again and again, one hand on the knife, the other covering her belly.

  “Hold off, D,” Trey said, and leaned against his axe. “Do it, Ben. Do it or I’ll fucking hurt you, man.” His eyes still had the druggy glow, and Ben wished he’d taken more of the Devil rush, wished he wasn’t jammed in this between state, where he had some logic but no fear.

  “This is your chance, dude. Be a man. You got the mother of your child here watching, she’s been doing her share. Don’t be a scared, dickless boy all your life, letting people push you around, letting people bring up the fear in you. I used to
be like you, man, and I don’t ever want to go back there again. Shit on. Look how your own dad treated you. Like a limp dick. But you get what you deserve, you know? I think you know that.”

  Ben breathed frozen air into his lungs, the words seeping under his skin, getting him angrier and angrier. He wasn’t a coward.

  “Come on, Ben, do it, just go,” Diondra needled at him.

  The bull was only panting now, blood pouring out of dozens of wounds, a red pond in the snow.

  “You need to let the rage out, man, it’s the key to power, you’re so scared, man, aren’t you tired of being scared?”

  The bull on the ground was so pathetic now, so quickly undone, that Ben found it disgusting. His hands clenched tighter and tighter around the axe, the thing needing to be killed, put out of its misery, and then he raised the blade over his head, high and heavy, and brought it down on the bull’s skull, a shocking crack, a final cry from the animal, and shards of brain and bone shattered outward and then his muscles felt so good stretching and working in his shoulders— man’s work—that he brought the axe down again, the skull breaking in half, the bull finally dead now, a last jitter of its two front legs, and then he moved his attention to the midsection, where he could really do damage, up and down, Ben sending bone flying, and bubbly bits of entrails. “Fuck you fuck you fuck you,” he was screaming, his shoulders impossibly tight, like they were rubberbanded back, his jaw buzzing, his fists shaking, his cock hard and straining, like his whole body might pop in an orgasm. Swing, batter!

  He was about to go for the shotgun when his arms gave out, he was done, the anger leaking from his body, and he didn’t feel power at all. He felt embarrassed, the way he felt after he jacked off to a dirty magazine, limp and wrong and foolish.

  Diondra busted out laughing. “He’s pretty tough when the thing’s practically dead,” she said.

  “I killed it, didn’t I?”

  They were all panting, spent, their faces covered in blood except where they’d each wiped at their eyes, leaving them peering out, raccoon-style. “You sure this is the guy that got you pregnant, Diondra?” Trey said. “You sure he can get it up? No wonder he’s better with little girls.”

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