Fiction · 05/25/2011

Pill

The sun went down and all the switchblades came out. A knife fight on every street corner. A hold up at every store unwise enough to stay open after dusk. Jones had knifed since he was a child. Still, he and Kegger weren’t as brutal as many knifers. They didn’t enjoy mutilation as much. They just wanted things. They felt good when they owned things.

On day 142 they went into Pennybill, a clothing shop. Walter was working behind the counter and had little else to do these days. He kept his store open until he went to sleep each night. He put a pair of glasses frames on a rack and saw the door open. Jones had on a long gray shirt that went down to his knees. Many people wore long gray shirts, especially knifers. The sleeves were tight. Kegger wore nothing but a belt. The belt had an overhanging stretch of cloth to protect his genitals. Minimalist dress was a growing fad in knifer culture. And, in knifer fashion, they walked around with switchblades.

Standing before Walter they did the best they could with the language they had. Camp now, snuggo, Jones said. I want nothing, Walter said. Pigger goes certain, Kegger said. They hit the buttons on their switchblades. Pip, Jones said. Walter made the sign of the cross and bowed his head a moment. He recalled Grace and Amanda. He and Grace had made the promise to each other after school. Grace had Amanda three years later. They were adamant to enroll Amanda in school. Rarely did anyone attend anymore, but Walter and Grace felt it was important. On Amanda’s tenth birthday they told her she would start classes. A month later Grace and Amanda got the green fever and didn’t survive. That was twenty years before Jones and Kegger walked through the door of Pennybill.

Walter reached under the counter and pulled out a sawed-off shotgun. The barrels were rusted. Jones and Kegger didn’t know what it was. No one had ever ignored their orders so they were confused. Can’t go, Kegger said. Jones was about to speak but got a chill up his spine. Pill workin us, Kegger said. They stepped toward Walter and he pulled the trigger which broke off and fell to the floor. He had read about firearms in school. He knew they were dangerous. But there weren’t even shells in the shotgun. Jones and Kegger knifed him and he fell to the floor. Jones picked up the shotgun. He inspected it. It was heavy and he felt strong holding it. The barrels splintered in his hands and tetanus rubbed into the cuts on his fingers. The synapses in his brain were firing as much as they had since he was a baby. He was getting an idea however unformed. He looked down at Walter. Kegger squatted and put a hand into Walter’s pocket. Zip, Jones said. Kegger put his hand into Walter’s other pocket. Zip now, Jones said and smashed the butt of the shotgun onto Kegger’s head. Kegger fell back bleeding. Zip said zip now, Jones said but Kegger was delirious.

Jones put a hand to his stomach. Something wasn’t right. He was in a bad mood now. He wanted to leave and wished they hadn’t come in. He walked out of the store without Kegger, the shotgun in his hands. On the street the moon was the only light and the air was cold. In his pocket the switchblade was huge and felt like a stone that had sat in the coals of a fire all night. He went down the street to an abandoned building that sat between other abandoned buildings. The planks that were nailed across the door crumbled from rot. Inside was black but people had good eyesight now so he could see the outlines of dusty things. He slumped in a corner and wiped the salt from his eyes. His stomach ached. His fingers stung. The barrel of the shotgun split and cut his hand.

He stayed there until morning thinking of food. Blood was streaked across his gray shirt and on his fingers. His thumb was brown and he wanted to press it into Kegger’s wounded head. Into the heads of Keggers everywhere. His stomach grumbled. He remembered walking out to the water where the scum floated thick. Kegger stood next to him, looking at the water like an animal.

Then the sun came through the breaks in the building and made Jones squint because good eyesight in the dark wasn’t good eyesight in the light. There was shouting outside. He sat up and felt hungry. The old dollars he had might get him a chicken leg. His back hurt and he twisted and it cracked. The slack in his shirt swung around. The switchblade, an anchor in his pocket, knocked against the wooden floor. He sat back, exhausted and ignoring the shouts of the day.

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Brian Mihok’s work has appeared in TRNSFR, Wigleaf, >kill author, Hobart and elsewhere. He edits matchbook, a journal of indeterminate prose.