The Payback

By Kevin Clarkston

t must be over. Their steps made squishy sounds in the wet grass. Phrases like “Yeah, I stuck that nigga,” “Ol’ gay-ass niggas,” and “Fuckin’ faggots” sprang from their lips as they savored their triumph.

 

I lay on my back in someone’s front yard, staring straight up at the sky. I craned my neck to see Casey picking himself up across the street. He stood up and dusted himself off, plucking the bits of dirt and rock. Damn, where were my glasses?

 

The bones in my vertebrae creaked back to life as I sat up. A sharp pain tore through my side. Something warm slid down my nose. A small drop of it fell and landed in the center of my shirt, adding a steadily growing splash of red to the center of my otherwise plain black shirt.

 

Well at least it’s clotted a little.  The blood that gushed from my nostrils like sewer waste had slowed down to a steady drip. The yard appeared fuzzy and out of focus until I yanked my frames out of a nearby ant pile and brushed a few of the creatures off.

 

I saw Casey’s face. He didn’t look good. Along with a purplish bruise, his round face was now home to a busted upper lip that made his thin mustache look like a speed bump. A sleeve on his shirt had been ripped off, exposing one of his stocky shoulder blades to the chilly night air. He extended his arm and helped me up; brushing off the blades of grass and dirt I couldn’t reach.

 

We walked back to his house in silence. The street, comprised of modest one and two-story houses, was quiet as well, oblivious to the horror that had just taken place. Through every punch, kick and stomp inflicted on us, not one porch light or door had been flicked on or opened, despite all the racket we’d caused. There was one other witness however, an acquaintance of the pathetic band who assaulted us. Instead of acting as a peace maker, he chose to play the role of bemused spectator, laughing and proclaiming ‘”That’s fucked up” as the Air Force Ones and Air Jordan sneakers crashed into our backs, faces and stomachs.

 

With each step I took, the adrenaline in my body pumped with smoldering rage. Shock settled into seething anger. Hatred enveloped every inch of my body as I thought how we’d been treated for the last few weeks by them, five teenagers only a few years younger than our nineteen-year-old selves.

 

The harassment always started the same: we’d be walking around the neighborhood in an effort to both relieve boredom and get a little exercise, when somehow we would manage to cross their paths, no matter which route we took. Victor, the ring leader, always repeated the same phrase, “It’s not cool. It’s not cool to be gay.” Then he and the rest of the clan would hurl insults our way, asking who the man was in the relationship, who was the pitcher and who was the catcher, did we have AIDS, and, curiously, solicitations for blow jobs.

 

We’d been taunted, disrespected and demeaned, and now beaten, simply for having the nerve to walk down the street in our own neighborhood, the place where we had grown up. Two of the attackers had been passing acquaintances, visiting both our homes on more than one occasion, which only compounded my fury.

 

Casey and I stayed silent as we walked through the front door and into his living room. A dish towel from the kitchen helped contain the blood leaking out of my nose. My body sank into the frumpy blue sofa directly across from the loveseat Casey occupied. Each us of stewed in our own private agony as we tried to fully grasp what had just happened. My head rested between my knees in an attempt to stop it from spinning, and to slow down the relentless beat of my heart against my chest.

Thankfully Casey’s parents had gone out for the evening. Being wrenched out of the closet and facing the biblical wrath of our deeply religious families would’ve added holy insult to infernal injury. We’d been fending off accusations about the exact nature of our relationship since our high school days, our false assertion that we were only friends falling on deaf ears. Our first semester as college roommates had provided a glorious escape from the speculation, which had continued incessantly the moment we’d come home for Christmas break.

 

“What you wanna do,” Casey asked. I lifted my head. Still sitting in his seat, his dark hazel eyes blazed with enough righteous indignation to bore a hole through my skull.

 

“I don’t know.” I toyed with an old book on the nearby lamp stand with my free hand. But I was lying. Little scenarios involving our antagonists were already playing on a loop in my head. And one look in Casey’s eyes told me we were on the same wavelength. I couldn’t believe it when the words “We could file a report,” came out of my mouth.

 

“That not gonna do anything but bring a shit storm down on our asses Nate.” Casey snapped. “So what you wanna do?” he repeated, bumping his knuckles together and furrowing his thick eyebrows.

 

He was right.  Law enforcement was a dicey proposition in our town. For every good cop there would be two or more who’d take hours to show up to the scene, or lose the paperwork for crimes like ours. Neither of us were in the mood for the mockery and smug smiles of superiority when we confessed the reason behind our bruises, especially from some of the black officers, who’d interject their questioning with soft, fervent prayers their sons didn’t grow up to become like us– black, gay and proud.

 

I didn’t say anything. Instead I stood and headed toward the bathroom. Casey bounced up from where he sat and followed. We remained silent as we wiped and scrubbed ourselves raw with soap-soaked towels to wash away the dirt, and tended to cuts and bruises. A river of red ran down the sink as I wrung out the towel I’d used to stop my bleeding nose. The blood that should’ve been on their hands was instead going down the drain, to be discarded and forgotten. Like us.

 

The person staring back at me in the mirror was unrecognizable. My eyes were bloodshot. My small, angular face was littered with wrinkles, while my hair was a tangled mess of unraveling braids. The image, and that of Casey’s bruised face, sent my whole body into a trembling quake, as if my insides were a Molotov cocktail of deep despair and blind rage ready to explode. Several huge gulps of air filled my lungs, as if the oxygen I took for granted everyday was now being rationed. But I wasn’t alone. Casey was doing the same thing. His eyes had the same look. Our mirror-image gazes met one another first, then we turned and faced each other. In that moment our minds said what our lips did not: Revenge was in order.

 

I grabbed the keys off the bathroom counter and we sprinted out the door and toward my car. As I opened the driver’s side door I stopped to look up once again. I took in the starless night sky and full moon and silently mouthed the sinner’s prayer to myself. God was going to be displeased with many of my ways tonight.

 

***

 

Our telepathic communication continued all the while we were in the store. We swooped through the aisles, not with nervous energy or uncertainty, but with methodical, single-minded purpose. I stepped outside myself as I watched us get pairs of black steel-toe boots, black hoodies, and black gloves. Some button deep down in our psyches had been pressed, releasing a flood of detailed information on everything we needed for our conquest. Our arms already weighed down by our merchandise, I volunteered to stay by the register while Casey got the necessary weaponry.

 

“Ya’ll planning a bank heist or something?” the cashier, a jovial older man with salt and pepper hair asked as he scanned our items.

 

I startled myself when a small chuckle escaped my mouth. I thought I’d forgotten how to laugh.

 

“I guess you could say that,” I said as Casey laid two aluminum bats down on the register belt. The cashier gave us a wary look.

 

“I don’t know what ya’ll youngbloods are up to,” he said, stopping himself from scanning one of the hoodies. “But I know that look you got in your eyes. Whatever it is, or whoever it is, it’s not worth it. Trust me.”

 

He put the ski mask down and lifted his shirt, revealing welts just above his navel where it looked as if more than one knife had once resided there. He rolled up the sleeves on his shirt, unveiling a crude tattoo. The kind that ends up on a man’s skin when ballpoint pens replace tattoo guns and staples and safety pins stood in for needles.

 

“Twenty years,” he said in a mournful tone. “Over some bullshit. Beat my homeboy senseless over some drugs he stole from me. They sent my ass off to the penitentiary. And see,” he said as he stood back and looked us over, “I can tell ya’ll just some pissed off suburban kids. College boys. Ya’ll ain’t made for jail. Minimum, medium, maximum–none of that shit. Don’t do it.”

 

“I didn’t know cashiers were required to do PSAs now,” Casey said, glaring at him. “Would you tell someone buying cigarettes or vodka about the dangers of drugs and alcohol? We just thought we’d hit up the batting cages before bed.”

 

“You expect me to believe that?” the cashier said, laughing to himself. That set Casey off even more.

 

“Naw, I expect you mind yo’ fuckin’ business and ring up our shit,” he sneered, leaning over the counter and looking at the man’s name tag. “Or do I have to call a manager over here, Jimmy?” I didn’t say anything, but simply shot a Jimmy a glance as cold as granite.

 

Jimmy mumbled something under his breath and shook his head, then finished scanning our items. I slammed five crisp twenty dollar bills on the counter, grabbing the change from his hand so fast it sent quarters, nickels and dimes flying all over the floor. The sound of the coins hitting linoleum was the last thing I heard as we bolted out of the store.

 

***

 

“I still don’t see why we need a bag of sugar. Are we bakin’ a cake afterwards,” Casey quipped. He pulled the hoodie down over his head. “And what’s up with these knives? Are we on some Michael Myers shit? I think we could hem they asses up plenty with these bats.”

 

“You’ll see once we get goin’,” I said, lacing up my boots. “We gotta give someone an early Christmas gift first.” I looked down at my watch. Ten-thirty. Late in the evening to be sure, but not too late for them to get in one more round of basketball, or hang outside to celebrate putting two homos in their place.

 

We tossed the baseball bats and the black duffel bag in the back seat of my car and sped off to their likely hangout, a decrepit duplex located in the back of the neighborhood. I floored the accelerator, barely slowing down as we rounded the first corner and returned to the scene of our five-on-two beat down, a small group of houses built around a circular slab of road. Casey gave me a confused look.

 

“I told you. We need to reach out and touch someone else first.” My index finger pointed in the direction of Laughing Boy’s house. He looked at me for a few moments, contemplating if this was a necessary detour. Then his round face broke into a grin. It dawned on him why the extra supplies were necessary.

 

We crept out of the car with the engine running but the headlights turned off, and snuck across a few lawns, careful not to make too much noise with the duffel bug. There it was. His prized black Charger, parked at the bottom of the long driveway. The car he always drove through the neighborhood. The one that blasted music through subwoofers that rattled window seals while he swerved the car wildly from one side of the road to the other, stopping along the way for no other reason than to show off his spinning rims.

 

Casey reached inside the duffel bag, pulled out two knives, and handed one to me. We made quick work of his tires, slashing them deeper than any patch job could ever hope to fix. Then we turned our blades on the paint, carving thick lines on the hood, the roof, the sides and the trunk. Our work was almost impeded by a lock on his gas tank, but a few twists with a screwdriver fixed that. I’d just begun to pour a lot more than a spoonful of sugar down the tank, when the porch light came on.

 

We shot each other panicked looks, and then hid behind the car. We heard the front door open. The screen door followed, torturing our eardrums with a high, piercing noise as the  rusted spring stretched and snapped to life. The top of his braided, peanut-shaped head came into view as he looked around to see if anyone was outside. I nudged Casey, and pointed to a large tree out of Laughing Boy’s line of vision, gesturing for him to run over there as soon as Laughing Boy turned his back. My heartbeat sped up to triple time as we heard his footsteps come closer. Suddenly they stopped. I peeked from behind the car’s trunk to see him looking around again. He was beside a large pickup truck, closer to us but not close enough to see the severe damage done to his prized toy. He took a few long drags from a cigarette, blowing out the smoke in little O’s.

 

“Take your ass back inside,” I said under my breath. The wind must have carried my voice, because I saw his beady eyes and little pug nose scrunch up as he glanced around again. My normal breathing turned into muted, emaciated gasps as I thought he spotted Casey when he peeked from behind the car.

 

“Know I heard somethin’,” he said to himself. A burst of light hit the ground, then was extinguished and turned into ash by a black sneaker. His footsteps soon grew fainter.

 

“Now,” I whispered to Casey. He sprinted towards the tree and hid behind it. I lifted my head to see if I could make a run for it as well, meeting Laughing Boy’s dumbfounded gaze.

 

“I knew it was somebody there,” he shouted, running down the driveway. His short, overweight frame ran toward me. I stood frozen. Everything slowed down for a moment. He was getting closer to me by the second, his face becoming even more misshapen when his eyes caught a glimpse of what we’d done to his ride. Just as he pulled back his fist, a steel-toe boot connected with the right side of his face, sending him flying into the side of the car. He crashed into the driver’s side door, then hit the ground with a titanic smack.

 

He rose up, dazed and confused. He stumbled forward and swung at me. I dodged it and channeled all of my adrenaline into my fist, punching him in the face. His cheek bone cracked under the force of my knuckles, sending a chill up my spine and sending him back on the ground, where he lay in a barely conscious heap.

 

“What do we do with him,” Casey asked in a hushed voice.

 

“Shit, tie him up and put him in the trunk,” I said.

 

“With what,” Casey said.

 

“I think I have a roll of duct tape in the car. Go get that,” I said.

 

I duct-taped his ankles and hands while Casey took care of his mouth, and then we carried him to the car. We sat him in the grass while Casey reached inside the car and popped open the trunk.

 

“Man, how ya’ll gon’ do my baby like that,” he slurred as we lifted him up. “Then got me itchin’ and shit in the grass. That’s–

 

“What? Fucked up!” Casey and I said in unison.

 

“Yeah,” he slurred.

 

“Shut up!” I shouted. Then we threw him inside, causing him to hit his head on the speaker box holding my subwoofers, and then closed the trunk.

 

“Let’s roll,” I said as we hopped back in the car and drove off.

 

I kept the headlights off as we made a left and rounded the curb, slowing down to see if our intended victims were outside. No such luck.

 

“They’re probably on the back road at Victor’s house,” Casey suggested. I nodded and made a sharp right turn, barely missing a parked car and a mailbox before hitting the brakes at a stop sign.

 

“Is that them?” A small group of guys clad in sneakers, fitted caps, muscle shirts and sweats were about halfway down a narrow street of houses that sat across from a corn field.

 

“Hell yeah,” Casey said in a low growl, lowering his hoodie over his face. “That’s them motherfuckers.”

 

I flipped on my bright lights and slammed on the accelerator.

 

“Man look out!” I heard one of them scream as I drove right up the middle of where they stood. “Watch where the fuck you goin’,” another one yelled. I skidded into the gravel on the side of the road before coming to a stop. We jumped out of the car, and heard sneakers scuff the pavement as they walked closer. The single streetlight gave only an outline of their bodies. Victor stepped out of the darkness first.

 

“Aww man,” he laughed, pointing at us. He was a sawed-off, cocky little bastard. “It’s them punks again. Ya’ll must like gettin’ ya’ll asses beat. Guess I shouldn’t be surprised at that!”

 

Just the sound his of voice made my blood boil. All I could see was red. This fool and his pitiful band of suburban goons had to go. There was no other option. He stood under the glow of the street light, smacking his fist into an open palm with a smug-ass smirk on his face

 

“Shit what nigga,” he shouted, throwing his hands up as he moved closer in our direction. “Get ya’ll gay asses on. Ya’ll ain’t gon’ do shit.”

 

Another member of their clique, bigger and taller in frame, strode out of the dark and came to his side. “Man, them dudes not movin’. You want me to handle ’em?”

 

“Naw,” he said, nodding in my direction. “Imma skull drag his ass myself.”

 

He charged towards me, swung wildly and missed. I punched him dead in the jaw, then grabbed his head and brought his face down into my knee. I could almost taste the sweet satisfaction. He stumbled back, blood streaking down his face, and came at me again, swinging his arms like a broken windmill as I dodged and punched him hard in the gut, then landed a few jabs to his face. He stumbled back again. Fear and embarrassment seeped into his eyes. Sensing defeat, he screamed, “Man, get them niggas!”

 

Just the opening we were looking for. A wicked smile crossed my face.

 

Casey and I shuffled back and opened the back doors, grabbing the aluminum bats. Another guy about the same size as Victor tried to run up on me, but met with the business end of my bat to his stomach. He bent over, clutching his stomach. I brought the bat down on his back. He fell to the ground, holding up his hands in a feeble attempt at self-defense.

 

“C’mon on man, don’t,” he yelped. But I didn’t give a fuck. He wasn’t in such a merciful mood when he had pummeled me like a punching bag while one of the big goons held me up. I smashed the bat into in both of his knees as he let loose anguished cries.

 

Victor saw an opening and swung at me again, this time connecting with an uppercut to my gut. I doubled over and tried to catch my breath, expecting a blow to the temple any second. I lifted my head and saw Victor. He had staggered back, his fists haphazardly positioned in front of his face. The previous blows must have left him weak. Enraged, I moved in for the kill, dodged another punch and swung the bat with all the force I could muster, cracking it over his ribcage. He fell beside his partner, wailing like a newborn child. His face was fixed with look of absolute horror, but the screams that erupted from his mouth became inaudible to me as I beat his back like a pinata, then spit on him as he curled up in a fetal position.

 

A loud, snapping sound ripped through the air. One of the big henchmen dropped to the ground, grabbing his side. Casey was about to dish out another body blow to him when the other muscle head swooped in and clocked him on the chin, knocking him back. I ran up from behind and nearly broke the bat across his back. He dropped to his knees. A grand slam across his face finished him off, sending a few of his teeth skidding across the pavement. Casey quickly immobilized the other oaf with a few blows to his face, chest, arms, and legs.

 

Above all of the moaning and cursing, we exchanged perplexed looks.

 

“Where’s the last guy,” I said.

 

Casey looked down the road and cackled. “There his punk-ass go right there,” he said, pointing to a pair of skinny legs sprinting down the street into the darkness.

 

“We can’t let him get away. He’ll run to the police.” I turned away from Casey and surveyed the scene. The enemies I thought of as sub-human entities suddenly transformed into living, breathing people, lying on the street, bleeding and writhing in pain. The oaf I’d clobbered across the dome wasn’t even conscious, while the one Casey clocked was laying face down in a pool of blood. I walked over to him and placed my fingers on his neck, trying to feel a pulse. There was none. The cold air had already begun to snatch the heat from his corpse. The sight of it all shattered my rage-colored blinders, shocking me back into reality.
“Fuck,” I said softly as I dropped the bat from my right hand, the hollow sound of it hitting the concrete barely registering.

 

“Man he’s too scary to tell anybody. He barely even fought when they jumped us,” Casey said, referring to the sole survivor. “All we gotta do is–”

 

I ran back over to him and slapped him across the face. “Do you understand what’s just happened? We have maimed four people, killed at least one, and we have a witness who saw all of it,” I screamed.

 

Casey gazed down at the body and the blood. Then he started hyperventilating. “Oh shit! Fuck! What are we gonna do?” he said, pacing back and forth. He dropped the bat and began pounding his forehead with his fists.

 

I shook him and said “Get it together! Let’s uh, let’s put them in the trunk. Now! Get the duct tape!”

 

We walked over to Victor and his second in command. “Man we sorry man,” the Victor cried, tears pouring down his face. “We won’t tell nobody if you let us go. Fah real man!”

 

“What ya’ll gon’ do to us,” the other one asked calmly, as if he’d accepted whatever fate had in store for him. I turned away from them and looked out at the vast, empty cornfield located across from the row of houses on the street. What had we done? Now we’d become the bullies. No, worse than that. Monsters. These weren’t superhuman hate machines. Just scared little boys. I blinked back the tears I felt forming in the corners of my eyes, then looked over at Casey, who seemed to be fighting the same internal battle.

 

We said nothing to them, but simply duct-taped all their limbs and their mouths, except for the unconscious oaf.  We popped open the trunk, prepared for a full-on struggle with Laughing Boy. But none was needed. His eyes were rolled back, the blood from his head wound now in the first stages of coagulation. And the duct tape covered his nose and mouth. My fingers rested on his neck. No pulse.

 

“What the fuck’s wrong with him.” Casey wiped a bunch of sweat off of his forehead and looked over at me.

 

“He suffocated.” My voice came out like a whimper.

 

“He what?”

 

“He suffocated! Because you were stupid enough to put the duct tape over his mouth and his nose! Who the hell does that?”

 

“Oh, so it’s my fault now because I’m not a criminal mastermind like you? Fuck you Nate! It wasn’t my bright idea to stop over at his house in the first place! But I’ll tell you what; the next time we plan an all attack, I’ll be sure not to gloss over the finer details of storing bodies in a trunk,” he spat.

 

“Alright! I get it, I’m sorry.” My hands rested on his shoulders. I leaned in and gave him a tight hug and kissed his forehead. This had to be the most surreal apology I’d ever had the misfortune to deliver.

 

“It’s alright,” he mumbled, patting me on the back. Then the sight of Laughing Boy seemed to send him reeling again. “What are we gonna do? All of them can’t fit in the trunk! Where can we dump him?”

 

“How am I supposed to know! It’s not like I drive around scouting good places to dump a body.What about there,” I said, pointing to the endless rows of corn in front of us.

 

“Really? A damn cornfield,” Casey snapped.

 

“You wanna leave him in the middle of the street? Why don’t we just dump the others in the field for now and take the dead ones with us. We can always come back for them later.” A new layer of fear came over me. And it was not the dread of being caught. I was terrified of myself. How could I formulate all of this–revenge plots, disposing of dead and living bodies–so quickly and so thoroughly? How could I be so levelheaded through all of this? Who was I?

 

Our gaze turned toward Victor. He unleashed a torrent of muffled screams as we took him deep into the cornfield and tossed him in the thick of it, where he landed with a resounding thud. We repeated the same thing with his second in command

 

The two other bodies lay lifeless in the street. My eyes locked on them for a few moments, then looked back at Casey.

 

“Hell no,” he said pointing at them. “I’m not touching a dead body! Fuck that shit!”

 

“You don’t and you’re gonna be a dead body if we got caught! We don’t have a choice!” After several minutes of grunting, sweating and straining, our now deceased adversaries joined Laughing Boy in the trunk.

 

“What you waiting on! Drive,” Casey roared as the two of us jumped into the car. He might as well have whispered the words, because I barely heard him. I was too preoccupied with my own thoughts. Thoughts about how all of our lives were now irrevocably changed.

 

“Bitch, drive this motherfucka,” he shouted. He dove under the steering wheel and pushed down on the accelerator with both hands. We peeled off down the thin stretch of road, the speedometer hitting 80. I reached under the steering wheel and tried to rip his hands off the gas pedal while the car barreled over speed bumps and careened from one side of the road to the other, dinging mail boxes like a pin ball as I struggled to ignore the sound of bodies slamming against the trunk and maintain my grip on the steering wheel. The blaring horn of another vehicle made me shoot straight up in my seat, bringing us face to face with an enormous SUV. I veered out of its way, then stomped on Casey’s hands and pushed him back into his seat. I slammed on the brakes.

 

Casey was a babbling blur of nerves, talking to himself as he rocked back and forth.

 

“What are we gonna do, dump ’em? I know, we could drop ’em off in front of the hospital? No, that’s stupid! Oh my God, what are we gonna do with ’em! Shit, I think I’m gonna be sick!” The thought became reality as he thrust his head out of the window and blew chunks that splattered onto the road.

 

He dry heaved a few more times, then squirmed back onto his seat and wiped his mouth with his hands. He lunged at me across the gear shift and grabbed my face. His eyes looked crazed.

 

“What are we gonna do!” he screamed, filling my nostrils with the stench of vomit.

“Calm down,” I yelled as I pushed him off me and yanked off my ski mask. “I can’t think with you havin’ a fuckin’ meltdown and tryin’ to kill us! And put on your seat belt!” The request sounded so idiotic in the grand scheme of things.

 

I put the car back in drive and we continued on, breezing past stop signs like they were merely suggestions until I turned out of the neighborhood and came up to a red light.The music pouring from the car speakers provided the only noise.

 

No sooner than I had managed to regain some sort of emotional equilibrium than we saw a flash of blue lights in the rear view mirror. We both whipped around to see a patrol car coming up on us fast. My heart felt like it was about to explode. Casey looked as if he would go into cardiac arrest any moment. We were so busy concentrating on breathing that we didn’t notice the light was now green. The patrol car honked its horn, causing both of us to jump in terror. I began to drive again.

 

We only got a few feet before we were pulled over.

 

“Calm dowwwn. Breathe,” I said in slow, measured tones to both Casey and myself, as the tall, bulky officer approached my side of the car and signaled for me to roll the window down. I caught a glimpse of his thick mustache and shiny, brown bald head, and relaxed for a moment. We knew him. It was Officer White, one of the good cops. But just as my fears of harassment were alleviated, my stomach did a double back hand spring into my feet as I realized his presence was a blessing and a curse. We knew him.

 

“Driver’s license and registration please,” his deep voice boomed. Good. He didn’t recognize either one of us. Casey fumbled with the glove compartment, found the registration and slid it to me as I handed Officer White my license.

 

Did you know your driver’s side brake light was out.” he asked, writing my information down on something that was attached to a large clipboard.

 

“I did not sir,” I said, flashing the most innocent smile I could summon, while shooting Casey an icy look out of the corner of my eye. Damn him and those mailboxes.

 

“Mmhmm,” he said as he shot me a suspicious look. His eyes lingered on us, and, for a moment, I was sure we’d been found out. Goodbye college. Hello three hots and a cot. “I’m gonna go scan your information,” he said, turning away and walking back toward his patrol car.

 

I thought I heard thumping and banging in the trunk. Had one of them resurrected? Impossible.  “Turn up the music,” I said to Casey in a hushed tone.

 

“Why? I didn’t hear anything. You trippin’!”

 

“I could’ve sworn I heard a thump. Just do it!”

 

He complied, pressing down on the volume until the entire car was rattling.

 

“Not that much,” I scolded. Casey pointed at something over my shoulder then snapped back into his former position, looking straight ahead and breathing like he was having an asthma attack. I turned around to see Officer White, a stern look etched on his face.

 

“Do you want me to get you for disturbing the peace as well,” he barked, handing me my license and registration back.

 

“No sir,” I said, looking down at my feet.Thankfully, whatever went bump in the trunk was now quiet.

 

“Don’t understand all of that boomin’ system crap,” he grumbled. “Makes enough noise to wake the dead.” I managed to crack smile, but I wasn’t sure how much longer I could hold out. Panic was pulling me down like quicksand, and I was starting to suffocate.

 

“Your other light is in good condition, so I’ll just let you two off with a warning,” he said, crumbling up the ticket. “But you need to get the light fixed ASAP.”

 

“Thank you Officer White,” I said.

 

“Ya’ll have a good night. Hey wait a minute,” he said, bending down to my level. “Aren’t you Pat and Deena’s son?”

 

“Uh, no, I think you got me confused with somebody else,” I said, my eyes frantically darting left to right as I cursed myself for uttering his name.

 

“Boy, stop playing. You’re a spittin’ image of your Daddy. Nate is it?” I nodded in response.

 

“And is that Casey Watkins riding shotgun,” he said, as he turned his thick neck to get a better view. “How your people doin’ Casey,” he asked.

 

“Fine, uh, fine sir,” Casey said. He threw a glance Officer White’s way, and then resumed staring off into space.

 

“What’s his problem,” Officer White asked me. “Looks like he’s seen a ghost.”

 

“We just finished watching a marathon of The Sopranos, The Godfather and Goodfellas,” I said. “It shook him up pretty bad.”

 

“We’re a helluva long way from the East coast. You don’t have to worry about gettin’ whacked,” Officer White chuckled. Casey elicited a small chortle in response. “You know that brake light bulb is probably just a little loose. I could help you screw it on tight if you pop the trunk, he said.

 

“No, that’s okay. I’ll let my Dad take a look. Besides, you’ve probably got meth labs to raid,” I laughed, working overtime to keep my tone breezy and conversational.

 

“Nonsense. It’s been pretty slow tonight anyway.  Pop the trunk.”

 

I felt myself sinking further into the quicksand as I reached under the steering wheel to press the trunk release button. This is it. It’s all over. My finger was almost about to press down on small blue button when Officer White’s walkie talkie on his hip blared loudly.

 

“Guess I was wrong about it being slow tonight. Tell your folks I said hi,” he said. Turning around after taking a few steps, he walked back, leaned down into my window and said, “Be careful.”

 

“Okay, will do,” I sputtered, thankful the light was once again green as we drove off.

 

We drove around aimlessly, weaving through back alleys and deserted streets, vetoing one another’s suggestions for potential dumping places. We passed through downtown, an area populated with bars and clubs packed with patrons smoking, drinking and indulging in other Friday night pasttimes. People danced in the parking lots, their laughter filling the air as we drove through the crowd of candy colored cars, tricked out trucks and souped up SUVs. They all seemed to belong to another world, a normal, carefree existence that we’d inadvertently exiled ourselves from.

 

“How about we try Barley Lake? You know, by the old bridge,” Casey said, breaking me out of my trance.

 

“We can’t! It’s blocked off for construction,” I said, honking my horn at a Mustang whose owner had decided to hold a conversation in the middle of the street. I banged my head against the steering wheel in frustration.

 

“You got a better idea, Nate?” Casey asked, clearly agitated. “Look, we can park the car by the little recreation area, dump them in the lake, and be out,” he said. His face was stricken with fear. “Hell it’s either that or jail.”

 

“Barley Lake it is.”

 

***

 

We pulled up to the small, dimly lit park by the lake. Wooden picnic tables and a few barbecue pits sat by the concrete staircase that lead down to the lake, which gleamed under the full moon. Save for the occasional passing car, we were alone.

 

“Damn, they don’t have any heavy rocks or concrete around here! I thought this was a construction site,” I said as I stepped over caution signs. Casey, who was down on his knees scavenging through discarded materials like a mad man for anything we could weigh the bodies down with, said nothing.

 

Finally I spotted a patch of broken up road. It was like finding a pot of gold.

 

“Look,” I yelled, pointing to the crumbled up pile of concrete. I ran toward the rubble, ignoring Casey’s warnings. Something thin and sharp sank into the ball of my right foot. It tore through my skin until it nicked the bone.

 

“FUCK!” I screamed out. I sat down on a slab of concrete to examine the source of the injury, a small red metal rod that poked out of the bottom of my boot.

 

Casey tip toed over to where I was, careful not to make the same mistake. When he got near me, he peeled his hoodie off, then took off his T-shirt and ripped it in half.  “What are you doing,” I grunted.

 

“You’re gonna need something to bite down on,” he said. I shot him a horrified glance.

 

“Man, fuck you and the Boy Scouts,” I hollered as he grabbed the metal rod and began to painstakingly work it out of my foot. The whole thing took less than a minute, but that didn’t make each excruciating twist and turn hurt any less. He threw the rod to the side and got my boot off, taking the shirt out of my mouth and wrapping it around my foot to create a crude bandage.

 

“Can you walk,” he asked. One tortured limp by me answered his question with a resounding no. “C’mon man, we gotta hurry.”

 

“What for,” I shouted at him. I plopped back down on the rock. “Who the hell do we think we are? There’s no way we’re gonna get away with this! And why should we,” I said, putting my head in my hands. “What the hell were we thinking?”

 

“Nate don’t you get all soft on me now,” Casey said as he tried to help me up. “Shit, you weren’t feeling any remorse when you went upside their heads.”

 

“And neither were you,” I shot back. “I didn’t hear any second thoughts when you were goin’ off on the cashier! So don’t try to pretend like you’re so innocent. Like I talked you into it or held a gun to your head!”

 

“Dammit let’s just finish this shit and deal with whatever comes later,” he said, glowering at me. He wasn’t making any sense. But then again, neither of us had since we decided to become vigilantes.

 

“Fine,” I said curtly, and made another attempt at standing up and walking. It felt like dozens of tiny serrated knives were being plunged into my foot the first time I put weight on it. But after a few more pained steps, I willed myself to drag my impaired appendage along.

 

“Pop the trunk,” I said.

 

Casey pressed the button on the key fob and unleashed another round of hell with it.

 

“HEELLLLP! These fools are crazy,” a voice rang out. The unconscious oaf had come to his senses. “HELLLP,” he screamed again.

 

“Shut the hell up,” I bellowed, ordering Casey to get the duct tape. We tried to seal his mouth, but only received teeth marks on our hands in return.

 

“Let’s just throw him in the lake,” Casey shouted in a shrill voice. We grabbed his arms and legs and lifted him out of the trunk when we heard a car come to a stop.

 

“What’s goin’ on over there,” a female voice said. We turned around and saw a stout, middle-aged woman looking in our direction. “Do ya’ll need some help?” she asked as she got out of her car. I could see the outline of a small child in the front seat. A young girl’s voice called out “Hurry up Mommy. I wanna go home.”

 

“No,” Casey and I shouted in unison. Casey tried to cover up the big oaf’s mouth. Undeterred, she kept walking toward us.

 

“I just noticed your vehicle sitting by all this construction,” she said, “and thought you might be having car trouble. You know it’s not safe for ya’ll to be out here this time of night. I could call the police or a tow truck if you need me to.”

 

“Everything’s fine,” I barked. “We’re big boys. We can handle it.”

 

“You may think that,” she said in a motherly tone, as she continued across the gravel. “But I have a son your age, and I know better.”

 

“Ma’am, stay back! Everything’s cool,’ Casey said. But it was too late.

 

“Oh my God,’ she said in disbelief, putting a hand to her mouth as her eyes zeroed in on the bodies laying in the trunk like firewood. “What are you–?”

 

Before she could finish her sentence, a large truck came barreling around the corner. Its horn blared and its high beams flashed. It tried and failed to swerve out of the way. It crashed into the woman’s car, sending it hurtling down the road. Millions of shards of glass exploded out of the car’s rear window and scattered across the gravel. The car veered off the road and skidded into a small ditch, then slid out and slammed into a nearby tree.

 

The truck skidded towards us, kicking up gravel and concrete. The driver, somehow still lucid, was jerking the steering wheel, trying to keep the massive vehicle from careening into the three of us. Sparks bounced off the rims as the front tires disintegrated into masses of black rubber. Casey and I dropped the body, grabbed the woman and and tried to jump out of the way. The whole world slowed down again. My heart, tired of pumping at three to four times its regular pace, slowed down. Everything became very clear during those last moments. The fruity scent of the woman’s perfume. The sweaty, slippery feel of Casey arm. The truck’s champagne paint job. Then everything went black.

 

***

 

“Son,” The voice sounded so distant. “Son,” it said again, this time a little louder. “Son.”

 

“What,” I said in a groggy voice. A warm hand touched mine. Dad’s face, flushed with concern and stunned shock, stared down at me. His arm was around my mother, who wiped a tear from her eye. A slow and steady beep invaded my ears. Something small and sharp was lodged into my left hand, covered in bandages. A long tube stuck out from it. The whole room was white and sterile.

 

“Where am I?”

 

“You’re in the hospital, Nathan,” Dad said.

 

“Why? What’s going on?” I sat up in the bed.

 

“Don’t try to get up baby,” Mama said. She was beside herself. “Just don’t try to get up. Please.”

 

“Why not?” I threw off the covers and tried to get out of bed. But my legs wouldn’t move. Come to think of it, I couldn’t even feel them. No. This wasn’t happening. My legs were fine. They were just asleep. “I can’t feel my legs. Why can’t I feel my legs?” Mama wrenched herself from Dad and sobbed, walking over to a chair and falling into it, holding her head in her hands.

 

“Because son,” Dad said, gripping my hand. “The doctors think you may be paralyzed.”

 

“No. NO!” I thrashed my torso back and forth, and willed my legs to move. The whole time, a loud clanging sound kept reverberating off the bed rail. Why was I handcuffed?

 

“Don’t you remember what happened?” Dad asked. “What you did….”

 

“For his sake, he better.” Officer White walked into the room, and shook Dad’s hand. “Sorry to have to meet you like this, Patrick.  Deena, he said, nodding in her direction. Mama ignored him. Instead she sobbed and rocked herself back and forth. “I don’t believe it. Not my son,” she said.

 

“What the hell’s going on? And where’s Casey,” I said.

 

Officer White took off his hat and held it to his chest. “He didn’t make it. Neither did the woman or the little girl. The driver of the truck is in critical condition. Nate, I’m going to have ask you some questions about what we found…in your trunk.”

 

It all came rushing back like a series of snapshots. The attack, the store, the cashier, our retaliation, and the ugly, chaotic aftermath. Five people had died, three of them innocent victims. And on top of it all, Casey was gone. The only person in the world who understood me, who knew all the dark corners and corroded corridors of my life and loved me anyway, was gone.

 

In a way, Casey got the better deal. At least he was spared from facing what lay ahead: The mug shots, the newspaper headlines, and TV reports branding us as homicidal homos. The expressions of shock, sadness, and anger on the rest of my family’s faces as they learned the truth. The faces of our victims’ families in the court room as they glowered at me as though I was a demon who’d escaped the bowels of hell. The jurors, their faces fixed in disgust and morbid fascination as they heard our crimes described in gory detail.

 

Our attackers would probably be hailed as victims and brave survivors, garnering sympathy from the community and going on to live happy, productive lives. The life I–that we–could’ve had had we not chosen to give into our rage and ride it for all it was worth. Instead I’d be trapped in a cell day in and day out for the rest of my life, growing old alone.

 

Sometimes revenge is a dish best left to rot.

 

 

——————–

Kevin Clarkston is an aspiring fiction novelist and short story writer who lives in Louisiana. He has written several op-ed pieces for African Americans For Humanism. He is also the author of K. Clark’s Corner, a blog that covers topics such as black gay culture, LGBT rights, sexuality, race, religion, atheism and entertainment.


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