Note: An earlier version of this story was published in Prick of the Spindle, vol. 5.2, available here (thanks to the Internet Archive).
At school, we have to tuck our shirts in, remove any piercings. We have to buzzcut our hair. They confiscated my skull rings, my spike bracelet, and my handcuff belt. My head aches from the fluorescent light, my butt from the welded jailhouse desks, my gut from the slop in the lunchroom.
Today’s the Eureka High Talent Show. The emcee hauls out across the gym floor. I plug my ears, shut my eyes, bite my lip. I know dead on what Ex-Coach Stark’s fixing to say. “Good clean fun, ya’ll. None of that sex, drugs and alcohol, or…punk rock. Just good clean American music like they used to play.”
Our band would have stolen the show. Not that we never had any accolades. We had the kind of outlaw fame stifled by our school and by society.
Our band, back when there were three of us, was myself, Lucas, and a boy nicknamed Vacant. In the locker room, boys call me scrawny, but when I look in the mirror I see a thin-lipped, big mouth and a curtain of jet black, oily bangs. Lucas wore strictly blank T-shirts and let his image do most of the talking. Nobody, including us, hardly knew Vacant, but he always showed the cigarette burns on his arms to fix our attention. He always wore a knit cap, even in the Alabama summer. We figured his brains were boiled and took pity on him.
Fridays after school we fled in Lucas’ spray-painted blue and yellow 1972 Impala, bought from a carnival using it in a demolition derby. We hung out in the woods, where the local FBI training facility kept corpses in cages for use identifying rates of decrepitude. Off the marked trail they hanged there, what was left of their faces grinning up at the splintered sunlight. They say the bodies were people who killed themselves. Further along the trail was an old shotgun house by a rusty, empty moonshine still. The house bowed and was held together by nothing but kudzu and human grime from the generations before us. We remained on the porch, never passing through the holey screen door. Lucas supplied the case of beer and the blunt. There were even crushed balls of aluminum containing tiny tabs of LSD.
We imbibed, then jimmied planks off the shotgun house to build a fire. Ignoring all boy scout convention, Lucas doused them in lighter fluid and set the flame with his zippo. A mature fire flared up. The planks burned well, paint peeling, green smoke wreathing the night sky poked through by stars. Next thing I knew I was lying belly down on the porch, my head hung over the side. The empty shell of a cicada hung upside down from the floorboards. As I raised my head and scanned the dirt, my body followed my vision, and I slipped off the side. When the buzzing stopped, I laid my head against a barrel connected to the still. Light passed through a bullet hole there, and I plugged it with my finger, sawing at the rust. Lucas watched the screen door with one of his zombie stares. He, Vacant, and I walked on our knees together in the humus and mushrooms, the moss and leftover bottles. I took a blue one to wear on my finger. Lucas chucked one at a tree to shatter. Vacant stood, crowed, and tossed three bottles at once. One smashed on a rock next to us, and Lucas moved to bust another over Vacant’s head. I grabbed his wrist. We sang Mutant Makeout by The Fiends, Lucas playing air guitar. When we finished, Vacant spilled into a song only he could hear, howling out indecipherable words.
“Got a voice like shattered glass,” I said. “He can’t sing worth a damn. Gonna end up owing us for the damage done to our hearing.”
“You’re a poet and don’t know it.” He had flopped back against an old oak that swayed in the wind. “Vacant! Shut up before you wake a snake.” He showed his gappy smirk. After another long glance at the shotgun house, Lucas reached over and unlatched his guitar case. With the guitar in his hands, he looked sober as my dead grandpappy. His specialty was punk songs played acoustic or country and blues played electric. I was the one who introduced him to the blues, always wanting to start a band with him. I wasn’t much of a singer, but I had been in the church choir. I wanted to sing songs about what mattered to us, not about angels or joy or death on the cross. Because she was a bad girl, I thought of the name Delilah for the band. Lucas always gave me the cold shoulder. He wasn’t sure I’d let him have the spotlight and, for Lucas, the spotlight was more important than Jesus. I was a good friend to him, but Lucas had trust issues ever since he broke up with an exchange student from Frankfurt, Germany—Greta, a dirty blonde like him but not as scruffy. He came across a diagram from her doctor’s office one day, while we rifled her purse. Turned out she had six toes on her left foot and, instead of disgusting him, it turned him on. After that Lucas asked her to take her shoes off during their many intimate moments.
He was staring at that shotgun house again when he just blurted out, “Let’s try and play one of your songs.” He waited while I fetched my three-ring binder covered in electric tape and took a seat on the porch steps of the shotgun. He strummed a minor chord with a sad lilt to it. I set in droning my poetry. Lucas riffed and Vacant banged on the ridged metal still. My mumble slowly became a moan. “Got down on my knees / and asked for Evil’s help / said, Man won’t you please / turn up my teenage yelp.”
Vacant wanted to change the lyrics immediately, saying something about the head cheerleader, while Lucas played an instrumental, halting every few seconds to ponder. “Well,” he said, “we got the spirit.” He eyed Vacant. “I don’t know if we got the skill.”
Behind us, the screen door of the house clapped. “Looksy here,” rasped a voice from the darkness with a lisp as if the tongue was forked. “Y’all practicing for y’all’s band?” From the darkness came a gangly man in black overalls that started just below his nipples. His hair was only a few strands of steel wool, his reflective wire glasses so old, I’d call them spectacles.
“You lost?” asked Vacant, making Lucas squint at him.
“Sonny, I been found.”
“You live here?” I asked.
“I look like I live here?” the stranger asked back. He lifted his overalls and let them drop, as if showing nothing was up his sleeves. “Only body that lives here’s them science experiments over there. I live up yonder in Eureka, just likely same as y’all.”
“Right,” said Lucas, kneeing me.
“You sure got a funny way of talking, Mister,” said Vacant.
“Boy, you letting your tongue work before your brain does. People say the way I talk is—prepossessing.”
None of us commented. The man’s vocabulary impressed me. But I had heard of backwoods romances in the woods between the high school and Winn-Dixie. I met the stranger’s stare with my own. His spectacles grilled me.
“Well, y’all are as quiet as church boys. Don’t be afraid. I’m just an old rube.”
“If you say so,” murmured Lucas.
The stranger stretched, cracked his joints, pored over his fingertips. “What kind of guitar you got?”
“Acoustic,” said Vacant. Lucas glared at him.
“Y’all like The Fiends?”
“Course,” said Lucas.
“You know the singer Woland? He’s my cousin.”
“Naw,” said Lucas. He leaned closer, then he shook his head and eased back.
“Sure is. Back in ‘85, at the old Faith and Unity bar, I played guitar with them. Wyatt was sick as a dog, so I stepped in. Y’all believe that?”
None of us had been born when The Fiends played at the Faith and Unity. I snuck in once, years later. The bouncers grabbed my collar, hauled me out, and the rest of the show I spent against the wall in the alley, surrounded by weeds and bits of clover grown through the huge cracks in the pavement, wishing someone would talk to me. The Faith and Unity closed when the floor collapsed, breaking limbs and mohawks moussed up with egg white.
“I asked if y’all believe that,” growled the stranger.
“Dang, man. Hold it down.”
“Give me that thing,” the stranger barked. He walked up and snatched the guitar from Lucas, then sat in the place between Vacant and me. I clenched my butt.
“Y’all were trying to squawk y’all’s way through a song. Y’all got the skill, just not the right spirit. Take a listen here.”
He played his way through Devil Beats His Wife by The Fiends. His voice became a bluesy, hangdog, Elvis croon, unlike his rusty trap speech. His singing was identical to Woland’s. Jiggling off the end of the song, he cut out by pressing his palm into the strings. An otherworldly silence hung over the woods. “Y’all should be impressed,” he hissed.
Vacant slowly began to clap, but Lucas punched his shoulder.
“All right. Y’all wanna start a band? I can show y’all how.”
Vacant nodded, Lucas stared. In a daze I piped in, “Sure.”
“Your friend here don’t seem to agree,” said the stranger, his spectacles aimed at Lucas. “I’ll play a few more, see what he reckons then.” The stranger smiled, baring a few teeth proudly, as if they just came to his mouth. He played the entire opus of The Fiends, some Forty-Five Grave, Misfits, Dead Kennedys, Crass, Birthday Party, Cramps, Gun Club. Then he played a song he said he wrote himself, “I always try to give ‘em hell / but whatever I do, I do it well.”
Even Lucas leaned close enough to see his fingers on the frets. “Y’all can’t even count how many years I had to learn these songs.”
When Vacant yawned during a solo, the stranger broke with a twang and said, “Boy, I probably slept longer than you been alive.” He set the guitar down with a flash, took a couple bounds, and started to piss against a tree. “I bet one of you’s got some girl you wanna charm. I bet she wants a rock star.”
“Maybe,” I answered in a halfhearted voice. When he flipped around, his face was covered in glistening sweat, as if he were just standing over a barbecue.
“Now listen. Y’all’s band is gonna be like this. You play the music,” he pointed a finger at Lucas, then at me, “you sing, and you,” his arm dropped when it moved toward Vacant, “just bang an old wash basin. Try to keep up with the rhythm, I suppose. Y’all gonna play primitive punk rock. You know some riffs, right?” Lucas nodded. “You got lyrics?” I shrugged. “You,” he aimed those blank lenses at Vacant, “just bang out any old shit, as long as it goes with the guitar. With the po-etic lyrics, I guarantee y’all some straight up success, maybe a goddamned record contract. I know a lot of people.”
I cleared my throat. “Well, what’s the catch? You want us to let you touch our junk or something? What do you get?”
He pitched his gaze out into the darkness surrounding us, then lisped, “I just wanna name the band, that’s all.”
Vacant gasped, like he’d been holding too much in his shriveled lungs.
“All right. Let’s hear the name.”
The stranger leaned in, the firelight glaring off his spectacles and the beads of sweat on his face. “How about…The Lost Soul Boys.”
There was a pause, then someone let out a titter that tumbled into a guffaw. Lucas slapped his knee and spasmed with laughter. Vacant and I joined, and we all cawed in chorus.
“The hell y’all think is funny?” shrieked the stranger. He stood and stamped his foot, he shook his fists. If he had a tail, he’d have whipped it, standing there dancing like that. “Y’all got my songs. Y’all can’t turn back now,” he snarled. “Just like y’all punks to up and cross a fellow on a goddamned deal.”
Lucas hooted as the laughter fizzled out. “All due respect, it ain’t just that that name is one of the stupidest things I ever heard,” he said, “but me and Emory always said if we ever had a band, it’d be called Delilah, hands down. We made up our minds a while ago.” He winked at me after he spoke.
“I think y’all are trying to hustle me,” the stranger bellowed.
“Y’all never told me about that,” murmured Vacant, squinting, grinding his gums.
“What’s your name, sir?” I asked.
“Shade,” the stranger hissed, “Jess Shade, with a German a.” He spun around and hoofed it through a stand of pines into the predawn dark. Vacant shined a light out after him. Nothing. We hurried back to Lucas’ car soon after hearing the cry of a whippoorwill.
After dropping Vacant, we listened to a zapped cassette of Son House. I asked Lucas if I could crash at his place. I reckoned my daddy would be up soon, and seeing him would be the end of everything I’d done that night. He was silent. When we stopped outside his garage, I assumed I could stay over. After stepping out, he muttered, “We can play those songs.”
“You want me to sing?”
He nodded. Inside the dank garage, the corroded garden tools cast crooked shadows.
“What you thinking, Lucas?”
He mumbled, too quiet for me to hear, then hit my stomach with the back of his hand. “Battle of the Bands is a month away in Montevallo, at the Cow Tip. We can practice every day until then. Then the talent show’s the month after.”
“You wanna do Delilah?”
“Hell yeah. We got thirty days.”
“Well, I can’t do it tomorrow. I got a date with Nastya.”
“Just bring her. We don’t have much time. Life moves fast in punk rock. Don’t you know the average life span?”
“It’s about 28. If you’re not gone by 30, you’re gonna start doing the sellout stuff, more talk less rock, know what I mean?”
“I didn’t know you were so well-versed in the subject.”
“It’s about all I know. You gotta be jaded when you’re young. Someone’s gotta die or something. By 30, if none of us is overdosed, and we hadn’t got a couple albums out, I’m gonna have you shoot me in the gut with a 38 special. I don’t wanna live no other way.” While he spoke, Lucas’ focus drifted sideways, out of this world.
“Why’s it me who’s gotta shoot you, Lucas?”
“Who else is there but Vacant? And he’s too much of an idiot.”
“Why don’t you just shoot yourself?”
A watery unease in his glance floated onto me. “Well, Emory, killing yourself’s a mortal sin.”
There was the drugs and rock n’roll, and there was sex too. To a virgin with a gorgeous girl, three months equals about infinity. For three months my romance with Nastya was only kissing and fondling, while my virginity dangled above. Before her there had been only a desolate spell as a lonely teenager. Her hair was the color and shine of obsidian, her eyes wild and elastic, her pale body tight as a slingshot. I impressed her once by giving a screamed performance of one of my poems. A boy who was talking to her had scoffed when I said I wrote poetry. She captured me with the sweet gushing song of her tongue in my ear.
“This is supposed to be a date?” Nastya whined in the alley behind Winn-Dixie, where she worked Saturday mornings. She inhaled from a clove cigarette, puckering off smoke rings that whiffed past my face through the window. When I reached out, she tucked her uniform tighter and looked out the window.
“I don’t got much time today. I got band practice later at Lucas’.”
“Band practice?” Her tulle skirt rustled.
“Yeah, band practice. Last night, we had a,” I paused for the right word, “breakthrough.”
She daintily flicked her clove out the window and tucked her chin to look at me, “You’re seriously in a band?”
Nastya said the backseat was unnatural, so I escorted her into the woods, near the shotgun house but out of sight of the FBI corpses. In a crooked ring of sycamore, we gathered a pile of leaves. She knelt, clawing through the button of my pants while I lifted her shirt. I had imagined this moment so many times, I guess my expectations were high. Because of that and the knowledge that she came from Russia, I took a long time. If we were caught, I figured the family would cast some kind of Russian Evangelical exile curse on me.
“C’mon. You don’t gotta bring him into it.”
I had promised myself to be strong, be a man, but afterward, when we lay on the leaves catching our breath, I wanted to cry, thinking, I’m in heaven. I can still just sit back and remember that day. I still moisten up. Is that age? I hoped Lucas could have that too, to be able to take a girl into a mute clearing from here to eternity. But Lucas loved music more than love.
As she buttoned up her boobies, Nastya said, “I wanna see y’all play.”
In the garage where Lucas had set up, a plain rusty hole in the day light, I wondered if we could come through even today’s practice. Lucas was the only one who knew how to play a song. Punk rock is simple, not fancy, not even meant to be music. To psych myself and the band up, I flashed the condom wrapper in my pocket. Vacant hit the wash basin with one beat, “In honor of you busting your cherry.”
Nastya blushed. I opened my fat electric-taped binder of lyrics. “Here we go,” I said. “One, two, three.”
Our first song was Moanin’ at Midnight. If you don’t know it, it begins with a long throaty wail. Lucas knew what to play after that and Vacant would probably crash in with his one, one-two downbeat. But I had to begin. I thought of how long I had waited—for our band to come together, for the end of my innocence to the female, even for the bell to ring at school. I had waited long, I thought. From all that waiting of my childhood came a wail, a moan, as if from a dark hole larger than me. My voice took on a lilt, even though I had passed puberty, then sunk through me, down into the earth.
After the bridge, Lucas was so excited he hooted and whacked Vacant over the back of his head. I believe now I could have stopped him at that moment. I could have changed the outcome then, while ever after our fate was set. The ache on Vacant’s face yanked me out for a second. But I heard the music, closed my eyes, and opened my mouth instead.
“That wasn’t bad. Not bad at all!”
Lucas and I progressed into songs with twanged out hillbilly standards and my voice amplified loud enough to hear. Vacant tried to keep up, while we tried to drown each other out. It wasn’t bad. It wasn’t good. We’d stolen from the Blues to create music beyond such bourgeois conventions, burning through all the old songs in half-time.
Nastya danced, arms up in the air like rising fumes. But hearing the name Delilah, she snickered, “Nobody likes church names.”
Lucas narrowed his eyes, and I interjected, “We’ve had this name in mind for a while.”
Her mouth twitched. “Well, it’s bad.”
“Least she’s honest,” Lucas hummed.
“You’d probably like it if I had some redneck church name,” Nastya spat.
Vacant raised his mallet. “Maybe we could change the name.”
“What?” Lucas and I squawked.
“Do you have a better name?” asked Nastya.
“Hey, are you in the band?” Lucas snapped.
“How about,” we all froze, “The Lost Soul Boys.”
The brutal clapping of hands in the tiny garage tapped my spine. “That’s your name,” said Nastya.
I gazed at my shoes and said, “Whatever.” Lucas trapped me in his longest zombie stare yet. Vacant counted off. I started to scream.
It was only Vacant and I who sat over the form for the Cow Tip Battle of the Bands. Lucas refused to join us. Vacant’s hand squiggled along the dotted line, and the name The Lost Soul Boys appeared.
It’s all true about life speeding up during high times. Before you know it, you’re old, sitting in the booth of a dive bar near a liberal arts college out in the sticks of Alabama. Iron dumbness had stricken us after Lucas thumped Vacant’s cranium several more times, telling him to get some rhythm in his head. I figured we already were losers. I had no hope. I wanted to win, because Nastya depended on it, and that was the only way I could be a man, so my manhood depended on it.
The emcee scampered past. The plywood of the stage platform bowed under his boots. He wore a barker’s hat and thick make-up which formed a false leer on his face. “How you guys doing!” he shouted. A unanimous howl struck up from the crowd. With the feedback, each word was like the shrieking ring of a striking hammer. “You ready for…The Lost Soul Boys? They must not have seen the eighties vampire flick.”
The crowd parted for us and we shuffled past, heads bowed. A girl in the corner vomited on herself and drawled, “Take me home.” We plugged in and Lucas bludgeoned the guitar strings. The crowd’s force came at us in one funneled wave. With a sudden bang on the strings, no countdown, Lucas moved into an accelerated version of Rye Whiskey. I slurred through the lyrics while Vacant banged a couple times, then lost his sticks. Lucas finally slowed down, only becoming louder. Vacant recovered by the next song, Hellhound on my Trail. But Lucas only scowled at the floor. After we dove head first into the next song, I gulped the words, trying to listen to Lucas for guidance. He was drawing out of the guitar beautiful sad waves a teenager shouldn’t know, sound which I had never heard before. In the patchy view I had of the audience, Shade migrated among the bodies as if he were only a floating head.
We played through our routine one song after another so fast no one could applaud. As we came to the end of our set list and Vacant started to flag, Lucas hovered close enough to say to me, “Let’s just you and me do Alone and Forsaken.” I was afraid of the symbolism. After our sexual encounter, I figured Nastya and I were deeply in love and would marry. Lucas began the sad, A-minor lowness, slow like the song is. But he sped it up to a punk rock time signature. My singing had none of the soul of the song, the lingering ache living through it. At that moment, Lucas alone carried us. He humped his guitar and pointed the neck out at the audience as the refrain wound up before plunging into the major chord.
When the song ended, he chucked his instrument aside, lay down, his mouth open in a frown, and studied his chest, where he began to carve, inscribing a jagged D, then moving onto an E. His head dropped, and he collapsed from his elbows onto the platform before he could finish the second letter. But, like lightning, he was up again, on all fours, scrabbling through the audience, barking and baying like a dog.
The crowd watched slack-jawed. I followed Lucas’ trail through the stomping limbs out to the parking lot, in between two cars. He lay there, snatching at breaths. Inside the bar, I heard the crowd explode with applause.
“Well?” Lucas gasped.
“You think we’re still failures?”
“I think you brought us through.”
“Goddamn Vacant can’t get rhythm to save his life.”
I said nothing, figuring Lucas was just being a typical artist who never stops picking. I figured we had done it—we had moved into the realm of fame, sex, drugs, and punk rock n’ roll. But I was just the singer, Lucas would say.
I cooled him down and wiped up his chest with his bedraggled T-shirt. Nastya came out still applauding, the sound shrill in our revved-up eardrums. The emcee stood behind Vacant. He had changed into a leather jacket over a Slayer shirt. One of those types, I thought. Lucas, still shirtless, stood up faster than he should have. “Who won, man?”
“Well, you guys blew the generator. The contest’s over,” the emcee murmured.
“So, who won?”
“The prize is this,” he turned and pointed over his shoulder at the leather jacket, spikes lining the shoulders, the words Best Punk Band We Dont Care painted on the back, “but no one won it. You guys were great, but the judges disqualified you because of the generator. It’s not fair to everyone else.”
“We killed all the other bands,” whined Lucas. He grabbed the jacket by the spiked shoulders and twisted it off the emcee, who took the sleeve and pulled back. Lucas shoved him against the trunk of the car. When Lucas raised his fist, the boy flinched. His makeup exaggerated his pleading expression. “All right, hold up.”
“It’s nothing, man,” said Vacant. Lucas’ neck cocked. He released the emcee. The boy took off into the bar. The door slammed, the deadbolt slid into its housing.
“I know it’s nothing to you,” said Lucas. He put on the jacket and pivoted to the other side of his car, opened the door, and sat inside. Before he shut the door, he told Vacant, “Find another ride home.”
As if it were all a dream, I woke from my desk Monday just after lunch. Whatever fate had in store, I knew the boredom of school was even more deadly. I forged a blank hall pass I’d stolen from a teacher’s desk and cut out during sixth period. After exiting from the gym, I bolted across the football field toward the woods. I was hoping to avoid Ex-Coach Stark. He had become a cop after he assigned too many suicide sprints.
Through several stands of pine, I emerged behind Winn-Dixie. Nastya’s house was nearby. When I came to the alley behind her house, I approached on tiptoe. I climbed the fence and landed in a vegetable garden, right on a tomato. Under the darkening sky, I spotted an engraved sandstone garden decoration leaning against the house with the words, “Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone. But if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.” I climbed the stairs and waited, sitting on the foot of her bed for a long piece of time. Outside, the sky was becoming the color of a bruise.
When she finally arrived she screamed, “What the hell did you do? There’s bloody steps up the stairs!”
“I gotta tell you something.”
“Where were you?”
“They let us out early ‘cause of the weather.” She shook her head and began to feel along the surface of the dresser. “Where’s my cross at?”
“How should I know? I never seen that thing.”
The sky was even darker outside. There was a knock at the window—a ball of hail bounced in the sill. In my seventeen years, I had never seen hail in Alabama.
She sat on the bed and said, “There was a shooting today,” staring off as if someone were whispering the words into her ear for her to repeat. “Your friend Lucas. I was waiting to meet Vacant when I heard shouting in the bathroom. Lucas was shouting that Vacant didn’t have no soul. Vacant said he did too have a soul. I heard gunshots,” she sobbed, “then Lucas came out of there waving a gun around and baying like a dog, like he did the other night. He ran off. Then Mr. Calhoun went in and dragged Vacant out. Lucas shot him in both hands, and he passed out. Where was Coach Stark?” She bowled into me and I lay back, horrorstruck.
The hail came down and sirens blared in the streets. I had wanted to tell her about Jess Shade, about what Lucas had said to me that night in the garage, about how much she meant to me. But all that ran through my mind were memories of Lucas wasted, slinging his arms like The Hunchback and growling a metal song, “I’m summoning the an-cients.”
The fall of hail, violent but distant, sent me into a spell. I slowly understood what being forsaken meant. It was to wait for something so long, too long, until you’re nothing but an old crow. Then, to get what you longed for.
Nastya was kissing my neck and sliding her hands up my shirt. I slid her pantyhose off. We set into a quickie. When we were done, she held me tight and still while I napped.
I woke to the mew of enraged Russian. Nastya’s mama howled and beat her fists against her apron, while Nastya stood half naked, weeping and screaming back at her. Then Nastya had to pull her shirt down to cover her legs and jump to avoid the whip of her mama’s dishcloth. I wriggled into my pants, stood, and grabbed my shirt. Her mama said something to me in Russian as I backed out of the room. Then in Russified English she asked, “Where devil take you in only panties?”
I ran down the stained stairs and opened the door to a world mute after the storm, the sun hooded.
Again I passed behind Winn-Dixie, where a man was tossing a carcass into a dumpster. I found the sycamore ring and let my knees break where the leaves were disturbed. “Grow me up,” I prayed. Where I’d made love with Nastya in the leaves, two copperheads, their silver-brown skin glistening in the faint light, lay tangled and writhing. Trees applauded. There was the seesaw coo of a mourning dove. Over the dirt road and through the pine eaves, I found the red clay path leading to the shotgun house. Branches sheathed by bottles clinked in the wind. But when I came to our shotgun house it was a silhouette of ash, not even smoldering anymore, finally dead, only the metal pieces of the still remaining. All that was left were the corpses, hanging out in their cages. On the grimacing face of one of them were Jess Shade’s spectacles. The corpse’s face was split by a shit-eating grin. It said, “Caught y’all’s show the other night. Hot stuff, you punker boys. Course, I ain’t so sure about that drummer. Y’all might have to give him the axe.”
“Well, we ended up losing, so none of that matters now.”
“You’re goddamn right it matters. Y’all can’t give up now! Just like y’all punks to give up when y’all gotta make tough decisions. If not for y’all’s drummer.” The corpse cut its speech off and shook, like a molting chicken. It clacked its tongue bone. Its eyes were black as dolls’ marbles against the gray sky. “Y’all need a manager and I’m available. I’m willing to take that risk now. I wasn’t so sure before.”
“You couldn’t manage manure,” I said.
“Boy, you got a lip on you.”
The static ping of rubber rolling over gravel sent me into a run. I passed under the leering corpse, hissing, “Y’all need y’all an edge.” A line of saliva oozed from its mouth and dropped onto me. I made bounds off the tufts of grass anchored in the hill.
Ex-Coach Stark hollered after me, “How fast can you run, boy? My best mile’s five even.” I burst through needled branches to see Ex-Coach Stark’s pig wagon. From the rear window, Lucas looked out with that zombie stare. I approached the open window and kneeled, in case Ex-Coach Stark caught up. In cuffs, Lucas perched on the edge of the seat. His forehead rested against the grill. First I only looked at him through the rearview mirror, where he appeared smaller. Then I saw his hands behind. Crawling on all fours had scraped them raw. I caught a whiff of gasoline.
“Did you shoot Vacant?” Lucas sucked in his bottom lip. “Nastya said,” I started but clapped my mouth with one hand.
“Frauleins talk, don’t they.”
“She’s not German, Lucas.”
“He was holding us back. If not for him…”
“I don’t know,” I said. Then I leaned closer to say, “I don’t think the band can go on.”
He hung his head. “Then you gotta do me just one favor.”
“I’ll do anything,” I said.
His mouth trembled and a squeak came out. He jutted at me. “Do like I asked you to.” I screamed. “Just get that twelve gauge out the front. Quick and easy.” If my throat hadn’t seized, I would have asked why. Ex-Coach Stark appeared, and I took off running again until the moon shined auburn against the Alabama clay.
At home I knelt again to pray. But I only cried, like a boy.
In school no one speaks about what happened. Ex-Coach Stark only eyes me up and down. Vacant is gone forever, transferred to a new district, maybe out-of-state. They put Lucas in the West Alabama Juvenile Facility. The other day his mom brought over the prize leather jacket and left without a word. Nastya gives me the cold shoulder.
I figure all I can do is wait. Fame’s in the cards one way or another, I believe. I’m the last Lost Soul Boy. If I pawn the jacket, I can buy a clunker from my cousin to drive north through Tennessee, Kentucky, along the Bluegrass Parkway to Ohio, Michigan, out of the South.