Acrid smoke smell, dry texts and notes on fire. Rank. Below that, smells of dying: shallow spreading pools of coppery blood and sour piss drying in the crotches of his tormentors.
My hand creeps forward, as if I could stop this.
Cody gives a little jerk and my stomach drops. Breathe deep, heart jacked up to amphetamine levels, my own bowels loose and threatening. Death wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t for that indignity. We’ve talked about this in furtive conversations, hushed and embarrassed. What it would be like to leave everything behind.
Goosebumps rise on my arms, neck and shoulders and I’m aware of time passing. It’s quiet enough to hear Cody’s watch tick-tick-tick seconds away. Other muted sounds: doors bang, people scream, footsteps run running run faster so he won’t find you. My thoughts fly to them. I can forgive them, because nothing is worth this.
I doubt Cody sees it that way. All the late night phone calls about them, about how much he hates them. His hate is bitter unripe fruit, break your teeth to bite into it but you want to anyway, feel its stingy juice on your chin, draw your mouth around it. I’m close enough to smell his sweat, ammonia-sharp. We’ve known each other since we were little; I’m familiar with his scent, but this is new.
Cody raises the rifle, his finger tightening on the trigger, and I can’t help myself. I begin to blubber, despite all brags that I’d face death with dignity—there’s that word again—and snot runs down my upper lip. My eyes burn, a faucet of tears I thought I’d been able to turn off, and I’m afraid to wipe my face, afraid to move. I look him in the eye, try to tell him I love him. He doesn’t have to do this.
He planned this for a while, that much I know. When he started to draw away from me, blaming me for his breakup with Kathy, I went into his locker and found his private journal. He’d given me his locker combo ages ago, when he was sick and I brought home a textbook for him, one of the ways we leaned on each other. What I found there, I don’t know if it was abnormal or his way to vent, but it scared me. Violent fantasies of hate-fucking Kathy, tearing her blonde hair out by the roots and carving his initials into her corpse. Vivid descriptions and drawings of the school on fire, the rest of us burning, damned souls in hell. I thought about bringing it to someone—his mom, a counsellor, maybe the English teacher who gave him an A in writing class—but I know the zero tolerance rule. They’d have suspended him, or worse. Now I wish I’d done something.
Everyone was surprised when Cody hooked up with Kathy, except me. I’ll admit I was jealous, not because she had a part of Cody that I didn’t, but because he changed. He didn’t have time for me, and I felt taken for granted. Cody’s dad didn’t like Kathy, either; he’d called her a whore, good-for-nothing, trash, and said she’d be living in a trailer park with Cody’s babies. I think it got to be too much for her. I liked Kathy, and I felt bad enough that I tried to talk to her, sort it out so she’d consider getting back together with Cody. He was miserable without her and talking about killing himself, so I had to do something. She shut the door in my face and left me to tell Cody what happened. That was yesterday.
I’ve seen that rifle before. Cody’s dad used to drag him out hunting, to make a man out of him he said. I went along once. It was nice in the woods at night. We were far enough north the smog was gone and the stars were almost too bright to look at, the lightning bugs zapping and crackling in the bushes.
Cody raises the barrel, the nickel-sized dark spot hypnotic, implacable. I stare at his blue eyes, silently plead.
The sound is loud enough to shatter the stars like glass.