The Last Child
rode faster, careful to not look back again.
    The cop scared him, and Johnny wondered how he knew the things he knew.
    Five.
    The number popped into his head.
    Five bruises.
    He pedaled harder, pumped his legs until the shirt on his back clung like a second skin. He went north to the far edge of town, to the place where the river slid beneath the bridge and widened out until the current went flat. He rode his bike down the bank and dropped it. Blood pounded in his ears and he tasted salt. His eyes burned from it, so he wiped at them with a grubby sleeve. He used to fish here with his father. He knew where to find the bass and the giant cats that hugged the mud five feet down, but none of that mattered. He never fished anymore, but he still came here.
    This was still his place.
    He sat in the dust to untie his shoes. His fingers shook and he did not know why. The shoes came off, then he touched the feather to his cheek and wrapped it in his shirt. The sun put fierce heat on his skin, and he looked at the bruises, the largest of which was the size and shape of a large man’s knee. It wrapped around the ribs on his left side and he remembered how Ken held him down with that knee, shifted his weight whenever Johnny tried to squirm out.
    Johnny rolled his shoulders, tried to forget about it, the knee on his chest, the finger in his face.
    You’ll fucking do what I fucking say…
    Open hand slaps to Johnny’s face, first one side, then the other, his mother passed out in the back room.
    You little shit…
    Another slap, harder.
    Where’s your daddy now?
    The bruise had yellowed out on the edges, gone green in the middle; and it hurt when he pushed it with a finger. The skin went white for a second—another perfect oval—then the color rushed in. Johnny scrubbed more salt from his eyes, and when he moved for the river, he stumbled once. He stepped in and river bottom pushed between his toes; then he dove, and warm water closed above him. It wrapped him up, shut out the world and bore him tirelessly down.
     
     
    Johnny spent two hours at the river, too worried about Detective Hunt to risk more of his search, too ambivalent about school to make going worth his time. He swam across the river and back, made shallow dives from flat rocks baked hot by the sun. Driftwood lay in silver stacks and wind licked off the water. By late morning he was physically worn, stretched out on a flat rock forty feet downriver from the bridge, invisible behind a willow that dragged long strands in the black water. Cars made the bridge hum. A small stone clattered on the rock beside his head. He sat up and another pebble struck him on the shoulder. He looked around and saw no one. A third rock glanced off his leg. It was large enough to sting. “Throw another and you’re dead.”
    Silence.
    “I know it’s you, Jack.”
    Johnny heard a laugh, and Jack stepped from the wood’s edge. He wore cutoff jeans and filthy sneakers. His shirt was yellow white, with a picture of Elvis in black silhouette. He had a backpack on his back and more stones in his hand. One side of his mouth turned a sharp edge, and his hair was slicked back. Johnny had forgotten that it was Friday.
    “That was for ditching without me.” Jack walked over, a small boy with blond hair, brown eyes, and a seriously messed up arm. The right one was fine, but it was hard to miss the other. Shrunken and small, it looked like someone had nailed the arm of a six-year-old to a kid twice that age.
    “Are you angry?” Johnny asked.
    “Yes.”
    “I’ll give you a free hit to make it even.”
    Jack held the hard smile. “
Three
hits,” he said.
    “Three with your girl arm.”
    “Two with the hammer.” Jack cocked his good fist, and his smile thinned. “No flinching.” He stepped closer and Johnny flexed his arm, pulled it tight to his side. Jack spread his legs, drew back the fist. “This is going to hurt.”
    “Do it, you pussy.”
    Jack punched Johnny in the arm, twice. He hit

Similar Books

Legend Beyond The Stars

S.E. Gilchrist

Truth Be Told

Victoria Christopher Murray

Far Traveler

Rebecca Tingle