Our Little Secret
Right. Okay. He had to stab his leg and bleed, into the bowl, all over the paper, and then burn them all up, one at a time. Fácil.
Lance stood over the bowl, staring at it, the… fuckin’… whatever it was… stabbing thingy in his hand. It wasn’t a knife. It was more like a big, long, metal thorn, without any kind of handle. It was probably gonna get pretty slippery. But maybe he only had to stab himself the one time. And then he looked at his leg.
Which leg was he supposed to stab? Was there… a certain spot he had to hit? His thigh? His calf? Did his foot count as part of his leg? Obviously stabbing into an artery would be a shitty idea, but… how much blood was supposed to go in the bowl? The papers were supposed to be burned, so maybe not soaking, but Carmen always bled a lot when she did her sacrifice things at home.
It was fuckin’ scary how much she bled. It had to be okay because she always made fun of him for worrying, but… shit, that was a lot of blood.
And how was he supposed to get the blood in the bowl? Was he supposed to… like… hold his leg up over it or some shit? Did he have to sit a certain way? Could he put his leg on the bowl or was that some kind of defilement?
Maybe he could go for his ears, like Carmen. But what if that was, like, a woman’s thing? He didn’t know why it would be, and he didn’t get why it should matter, but that didn’t mean that it wouldn’t fuck Alejo over if he did it wrong.
Man, stabbing his dick would actually make all this a lot easier. But, like… Carmen was just making fun of him, right? Kinda? Probably? He couldn’t tell how serious she was being. What if it ended up being, like, an insult or something? And would Alejo really want his dick-blood? Or what if it was actually extra good, because symbol of virility or some shit?
Hooy na ny. Just the thought of it made him shrivel up. The Aztecs were intense, man.
Shit, he should’ve thought of all this shit before, when Linda was fielding questions. He was such an idiota kusok.
He turned the thorn over in his hand, looking for some hint or something. A faint rainbow light trailed his movements, dissipating into the shadows of the room. His heart flickered then caught, skipping every other beat.
Okay. Okay. He just had to… do something. He’d drunk the sketchy fuckin’ holy acid thingy and was already starting to trip balls, and Alejo needed blood. That was the key, right? The symbol of life and vitality and strength and shit. If he fucked it up he fucked it up—at least the blood would get there. Maybe it would end up being less good, but it was something.
Lance put the bowl on the ground and set his foot in the bowl.
Take a knee, Gorman.
Whoa. Coach Sarge.
I said take a knee!
He set one knee down on the cushion. Throat went dry. Gut burned, low and hot and empty.
This was gonna be a bad trip.
Okay, he could deal with this. He just had to breathe deeply and evenly and remind himself… brain… interpreting symbols… something something subconscious and expressions? And something exists when he’s not looking or something?
He was so fucked.
Lance’s heart flickered again and caught again. And then it beat like the clapping of a crowd of hands to blaring trumpets, a grunting tuba, pattering drums.
What the fuck was Coach Sarge’s voice doing in Psychadelia?
Dude: psychadelia. Awesome name. He’d have to tell Carmen that one. Maybe she’d give him that look, that kinda-surprised, kinda-pleased, kinda-turned on look that she always gave him when he said clever things. That was the best fuckin’ look. It made him feel like maybe he could keep up with her smarts after all.
Well, okay. Second best. Nothing topped feeling like it didn’t matter if he was smart or not because she was already the happiest ever. That was the best fuckin’ look.
Eyes on the prize, Gorman!
Right, the stabbing. He jabbed himself with the thorn.
A firework exploded in his calf. The sparks faded and the flame caught, burning low and hot, spreading slowly to the rest of his leg. Blood spilled down his skin, overcoming the hairs there like lava swallowing up a forest, until it hit an ocean of paper and slowed to a stop, settling. A mirrored ooze began in the back of his head, spreading across the inside of his skull, up and up and up until it circled around to his forehead.
He set the thorn down and took up a paper, the rainbow path lingering longer in the passing, drawing a ribbon in the darkness. The soaked paper caught the candlelight, black in some parts, a flickering glow in others. Then he held it out to the flame. It caught, then burned up, leaving ashes between his fingers.
Something brushed against his back, like wind—like fur. He took up another, watching the new drawing take shape in the night.
I know you.
Lance made another drawing, overlapping the one before, ending it in a conflagration.
I know your heart.
Thumping against his ribcage like a snare drum. Tum-barrrum-tum-barrum-tum. Another smoking red flare at the end of the rainbow.
I know those shadows.
Down, up. Legs straining, clink of metal weights brushing each other with each pump. Like a heavy windchime. The paper burned slow, like the ache in his muscles, like the agony in his leg.
Does your beloved know? … No. Of course not.
Down, up. Elbows shaking, biceps, triceps, pecs, back, all burning. Had to keep going. So long as the ones beside him were going, he had to. He had to carry the team. It was riding on him. The paper disappeared to ash.
It’s our darkness to bear. Our little secret.
Down, up. Neck straining, elbows tugging forward as if they could pull him up by wanting alone, abs on fucking fire. More ashes, blown away with the disappearing of the rainbow.
Will you keep your mouth shut, Gorman?
He took in a sharp breath.
Here again: heart pounding in his ears, knuckles burning, blood spraying the carpet. Gasping sobs—I take it back, I take it back, he cried, over and over. Your mom’s not a slut. I take it back. A yank at the collar—and then, like that, it was done.
Jeremy had asked him why he didn’t include his father’s side in the end-of-sixth-grade family tree project, and Lance had told him. Mom cried every night for a week, when she thought he was asleep, over Jeremy’s ER bill.
The memory crumbled to ash.
Ohhh man. Ohhh man.
His chest clenched. His eyes watered.
Move your ass, Gorman!
Help carry the team.
Lance grabbed a paper and shoved it in the fire.
Here again: shin and foot slamming, then a step, then a slam again. Track dust spat up with each collapse. A white tooth rolled a bit in the dirt, a thin trail of dark red following it. What the fuck, man, what the fuck, you’re fuckin’ insane.
Kaho’d prodded Lance, asking him if he’d gone all the way with his new girlfriend yet. He’d lied. And then the next day there was a rumor going around that she was easy. Coach Sarge broke it up, sat them down, and then… and then he was a shoe-in for the frosh-soph football team. Him and his girlfriend broke up a month later. But really, it had ended that first day, when she’d spent all of lunch crying in the bathroom.
The memory crumbled to ash.
Yoptel-mopsel, he was a pendejo. So fucking stupid.
He should’ve kept his goddamn mouth shut.
You crying, Gorman?
SIR NO SIR! He wasn’t crying!
That was sweat running down his cheeks, like the sweat crawling down his neck, his back, his chest, his arms. Nevermind the aching twist of his face, nevermind the stinging fullness in his eyes.
You wanna run home to your mommy?
SIR NO SIR! He wasn’t goin’ anywhere!
He was gonna do this. He was gonna carry his team all the way. ‘Cause Mom was at home, working her ass off day and night to give him a home, to give him clothes, to give him food, to give him a life. She deserved more than his C’s and D’s. He was going to college, because she wasn’t ever able to.
That’s right! You’re gonna shut your mouth and keep going as long as I say so!
Lance grabbed a handful of papers, fingers scrabbling through the blood, scraping off the papers stuck to his foot, and thrust his hand over the flame. If he was burned? Nu naher.
Here again: lockers surrounding them, towering over them. The one fluorescent light shining, sickly sunlight filtering through the one window, somehow making the dormant darkness of the rest of the locker room deeper.
He stared at his bandaged hands dangling between his knees while Coach paced around, wordless fury tapping in his steps. It continued, pinging off the metal of the lockers, the tile of the showers, the stone of the walls.
Finally, he spoke.
“I don’t know if I’m more impressed that you managed to singlehandedly beat the shit out of half your fucking team or at your complete and utter fucking mental retardation!” Blood pounded war drums in Lance’s ears. It was like the air itself was pushing his hands closed tighter and tighter, like it would speed his fists forth. He looked up. Coach’s face was red, the veins standing out on his forehead, winding under his crew cut. “What the FUCK, Gorman!?”
Lance jumped to standing. He felt light, as if his 180 pounds didn’t matter. “She was fuckin’ passed out, sir, they were—!”
Coach stepped forward, shoving his face in Lance’s, the whites of his eyes bared like teeth. “Stop right fucking there! I don’t give TWO SHITS about whoever the fuck she is!” His fury and disgust spattered against Lance’s face. “This is your team we’re talking about! Your brothers! You’ve fucking sweated and bled and fought hard and TRIUMPHED alongside them! They look to you as their leader, their example, their inspiration—shit, they talk about you like you’re the Second FUCKING Coming! What you just did—how can ANYONE fucking count on you when you FLY off the FUCKING HANDLE like this? After all this hard fucking work, you let your anger CONTROL you, Gorman! Now you look me in the face and you tell me what THE FUCK could POSSIBLY be worth that fucking price tag!”
Pain throbbed in Lance’s knuckles, in his face, his chest and his stomach and his back, accusatory. Shame crawled up the back of his neck, spreading out over his skull, squeezing every last bit of lightness and wind out of him. He withered, his gaze dropping to the floor.
“YOU LOOK ME IN THE FACE, SON!”
His gaze snapped up, heavy now, back to the red face, the white-lit eyes, to the bared teeth. Coach’s eyes flicked over him a while, red fading to pink, and then he pulled back slightly.
“Now you tell me what you’re gonna do.” His voice was suddenly calm, his expression still.
What he was gonna fuckin’ do? What could he do? He hurt them. He betrayed them. He straightened, squaring his shoulders, and stared past Coach, waiting for his orders. Waiting to be cut from the team.
Coach circled around him, his steps tap-tap-tapping on the concrete floor. Lance stayed still, pushing his shame-twisted mouth back into shape, forcing the stupid fuckin’ baby tears back from his eyes. He was gonna own up to his failures. He was gonna face this like a man.
“You’re gonna keep your fucking mouth shut is what you’re gonna do,” Coach said to his right ear. “Anyone asks what happened: mouth shut. Any of your brothers give you shit: mouth shut. Someone so much as mentions this girl: mouth shut.”
Howling filled his head.
To his left ear: “I don’t wanna cut you from the team, Gorman. I wanna give you another chance to build that trust up again. I wanna give you an opportunity to go to an ivy league and be big, so your talent won’t be wasted in a goddamn Starbucks and your mama won’t have to work so hard anymore. But this is the only way it’s gonna work. I need to hear this from you now, son.” He stepped in front of Lance, pinning him with a look. “Anyone asks what happened, what do you do?”
“Mouth shut, sir!”
“Your brothers give you shit?”
“Mouth shut, sir!”
“Someone mentions this girl?”
“Mouth shut, sir!”
“If there’s another girl?”
Lance’s heart kicked its hard, war-drum beat. His hands billowed into fists. Coach’s eyes sparked.
“Gorman!” he spat. “What do you do if there’s another fucking girl?”
Fire burned at the back of his throat.
All the problems he ever caused were because he couldn’t keep his big fucking mouth shut. Now Coach was giving him another chance. Like he’d done freshman year.
He undid his fists. “Mouth shut, sir.”
“Do you swear!?”
“Sir yes sir!”
“Do you swear on your brothers!?”
“Sir yes sir!”
“Do you swear on your mother!?”
“Sir yes sir!”
“Will you keep your mouth SHUT, Gorman!?”
“Sir yes sir!”
“Good! You’re benched until I say so! Now get out of my fucking sight!”
Lance turned away and marched past the lockers. One stood open; within, a cheap-ass religious candle from the Hispanic Food section of Safeway, the one with Jesus’s mom on it. She looked so… sad.
He slammed the locker shut, and walked away from the sound of shattering glass.
The memory crumbled to ash.
Fire licked his hand. He pulled it away, slow, and turned it over, fingers unfolding. The rainbow settled onto his skin, revealing it whole, unmarked but for the black ash and blood smeared against his palm. And then something dripped on it, something that caught the orange light, drew a clean trail as it gathered the black on his hand, to send it running over his veins, down his arm.
The papers were all gone, in one wad, one great conflagration. Crammed, because he couldn’t handle doing it right. Utterly emptied, he settled to the floor like a dying sail, the rainbow of his passing fading fast. The bowl clattered, freed. Blood continued to leak down his leg to the floor.
“Lo siento…” His words barely came out, as if nearly all the air had left him. “I fucked it all up. Lo siento.” He had nothing else but this shitty fuckin’ bed he made. That other people had to lie in. Ever since he was born, really. The dull orange glow on his skin of his palms began to swim. “It’s not fuckin’ fair.” He swallowed the bubble in his throat. Hot tears dripped from his face. His chest tightened further. “It’s not fuckin’ fair.” His fingers curled on themselves. “I’m… I’m such a pendejo… How can I… fix it… ?” His sobs swallowed the rest of his words.
A hand pressed over his shoulder.
I’m sorry, Teyolloilhuicac. I still haven’t figured that out myself.
Pizda rulyu. “Smart guy like you? If you can’t figure it out, I don’t stand a chance.”
You’ll get there first.
The hand squeezed, and began to draw away.
Lance sniffed, drawing stuttered air in. Finally, it felt as if he could move again, at least a little. He wiped his tears with his palms, and cleared his throat.
“I DON’T WANT IT!”
His ears howled. His head filled with it like a windsock.
When his heart started again, it was the high and fast thrum of the snare, insistent. Air filled him once more. He rose quick. Even the pain in his leg felt light, every step burning and twisting only his skin, unable to reach the rest of him.
He brushed through a room, around corners, following her voice. Shadows pulsed on either side, rippling, jumping up and down to a deep, thumping heartbeat that crashed at him from every side. Jumping, swaying, chanting, all quiet through the howl but reaching past that all the same and winding his guts tight. In front of him, shapes loomed, blocky and bricklike.
She screamed again.
The rainbow dragged at his pumping fists. He breathed in, filling himself with the sky. Spun and slipped and twisted past them. Fácil.
It was there, a door jutting up like yellow horns.
A crash. Another scream. A thud.
He stepped between them.
Carmen lay sprawled, bleeding dark, filthy water that surrounded her and cushioned her like a bed. The flickering rainbowlight caught on the pool beneath her, dancing on her skin. Shadows loomed over, broad and man-like, staring, swaying, shaking with laughter. Then they drew closer.
Once more his hands billowed into fists. He stepped forward and the rainbow caught up, slamming into him, filling him, ready to—
Carmen shifted. The water moved with her, coming up with her head like long earrings, like hair, like a veil. She lifted herself, water dragging at her, collapsed, then lurched again.
Awake. She was awake.
Lance’s hands billowed open and he stooped, winding his arms beneath her.
And then she didn’t move. The water pulled back.
Something seized him.
She slid up, shifting over him, sending him crashing down. His rainbow fled as he was covered.
The howling moved from him, shaping into things he barely recognized but for the inquisitive twisting and curling and looping incomplete, yearning for completion.
The rest was crushed shut by the weight over him. The howling was pressed down, down, uncurling as it pushed through him until it was completely straight, sticking out from him, pointed in only one direction, like a curse that would spit out into nothing and fall to the earth, abandoned, meaningless, and wild. More gathered upon him, settling over this waiting exclamation, shifting along it with the rhythm of the tides.
And then, it left him, like the gush of blood from a needle-pricked artery trickling away to pain. Another offering, exacted from him.
The hungry shadows pressed. Waiting. His howling emptied thus, he knew.
The need pressed deeper, the rainbow fled further. Another exclamation rose to painful, demanding attention, another offering, another bleeding ready to be pressed out of him with the burgeoning crush of the growing heavy dark. It left him again, flattening him further, only to be demanded and demanding anew with greater reluctance each time.
Eventually there was nothing left to bleed. The need swelled away from him, drawing back like low tide, leaving him dry and scattered.