by Mike Sharlow
It didn’t matter what
they were doing. Whether it was playing baseball under the yellow glow of the corner streetlight, catching a multitude of
prehistoric looking pincer bugs in empty Miracle Whip jars to watch them war with each other until the death, or throwing
rocks at elusive schizophrenic Brown Bats, if the Fogger appeared, they dropped everything to follow it like a band of hunters
after a great mystical beast, not to kill, but to worship it for all it had given.
From a singular pipe, that if they got to close to it would burn
them, the Fogger belched a constant cloudy stream of thick white smoke that instantly billowed out enveloping everything.
The boys longed to get lost in it, open their eyes it to be blinded by the hazy soft world that had to be something like heaven.
It made them float like angels but feel like devils, as they danced with their arms and legs flailing into each other, sliding
in and out like a dozen snakes. The thick white smoke was intoxicating and addictive. They heaved it in and out of their healthy
pink lungs with every breath they needed to maintain the frenzy pitch of their laughter.
This night they were doing nothing but antagonizing each other and
slapping at the skeeters the Fogger was supposed to kill. The summer had become old. The boys had caught and killed as many
pincer bugs they could stand. The fun of throwing rocks at bats had been ruined three nights ago, when Paulie threw peach
pit sized cinder at a darting bat in Mrs. Johnson’s backyard. It was an errant throw that crashed through Mrs. Johnson’s kitchen window. The woman screeched, and the boys scattered, but she had been picking through her living room, and
she saw who threw it. Of course, Paulie’s Dad beat Paulie three ways to
Hell. When Paulie’s Dad, who looked like a mean version of Mr. Clean, yelled,
“Paulie, get your ass in the house!” The other guys wondered if they would ever see their friend
alive again, but a few hours later or maybe the next day Paulie would be outside again. He would look like a zombie or a vampire
victim; gray, numb, and gray. It took effort for him to do anything, and it was another day before he was himself again.
Four boys, all twelve years old, milled around under the corner streetlight
on 14th and Thompson. Paulie and Joey were playing flinch, pounding each other’s shoulders. They laughed on the verge of crying. The joy of inflicting pain surpassed the cost of receiving
it. Their arms and shoulders would be dark and stormy tomorrow.
Joey stood by himself hiding behind an Elm tree. He had his right
hand in his mouth gnawing voraciously on his fingernails that could barely be chewed any shorter, but with perseverance he
nipped and peeled a little more off. He didn’t stop until they stung and bled. He couldn’t help himself. His mother put Tabasco Sauce on his fingertips to deter him. It made his raw fingers sting like hell,
but it didn’t
keep his fingers out of his mouth, and he got to like the spicy taste. When he started asking for Tabasco at the supper table,
his mother gave up.
Paulie scratched the scar on top of his head. It itched now and then.
It was almost down the middle of his head, beginning at his hairline and extending to his crown. His buzz haircut exposed
its near perfection making it look like a part. Ronnie gave Paulie the beauty mark earlier this summer, when he shot an apple
off his head using a bow and arrow meant to take down a “big balled buck” as his dad would
say. Ronnie’s parents grounded him for a week, and his dad said he was
too stupid to take out in the woods. Ronnie sat back on his bed with his hands smugly behind his head, as he listened to his
dad lecture about the dangers of guns and bows and arrows and thought, “If
you ever take me out in the woods, old man, I’ll put a fuckin’ arrow up your ass and leave you for the bugs to eat your eyes out. Cripes, everyone
knows guns and stuff are dangerous, dumb ass. That’s what makes ‘em fun.”
Ronnie’s dad left the room shaking his head and muttered, “Stupid kid,” under his breath.
Ronnie aimed an imaginary gun at him and muttered back, “You should be proud of
me, Dad, I hit the apple and really only skinned Paulie’s noggin.”
Ronnie straddled the storm sewer and dropped pebbles through the
iron grate. He listened for the kerplunk in the rank standing water in the dark below. On the back of his right hand, the
hand he was using to drop the pebbles was a circular white scar. It was where Joey had bit him when they were in kindergarten.
They had just stepped off the school bus. It was a sunny fall day. The leaves were turning. The Sugar Maples were fiery orange.
The air was cool and crisp. It gave the snap to an orchard fresh Red Delicious, and the bite that made your eyes water and
nose run. It was a good day for football. The boys heard ghostly cheers in the autumn wind. Joey pushed Ronnie like the block
of a gnarly knuckled lineman. Then Ronnie leaped and tackled Joey like he was sacking a quarterback. They wrestled around
on the grass, Ronnie getting the better of Joey. Then all the energy he had penned up from the day, the chaos of the swirling
leaves making his head spin, and the charged autumn air combined to one single act that made sense at the moment; to bite
Ronnie. Joey clenched his jaw, refusing to relinquish, until he tasted blood. Ronnie yanked his hand free which halted the
attack but caused more damage. Then, seeing what Joey had done to him, Ronnie punched him in the gut. Joey rolled on the ground,
his face turning red, as he tried to catch his breath. In one gasp he thwarted death but then started to cry before he got
up and ran home. The next day they were best friends again.
Ronnie’s skin turned
golden from the summer sun, but the scar was immune and remained white. It sort of looked like the outline of s skull. Someday
Ronnie thought it would be cool to complete it with a tattoo of a bloody knife running through it.
Fat Larry sat doing nothing, as it would seem to the casual observer,
on the curb of the street next to Ronnie, but actually he was very busy with himself. He tensed his big body and grunted,
as his face got red from the effort. Streams of boy-sweat traced his round face and disappeared in the flabby crevice of his
chin and neck.
“Why don’t you go home and take a crap?” Ronnie asked.
“It’s goin’ back up,” Larry groaned.
“I don’t wanna smell it the whole night,” Ronnie growled.
“I told you it’s goin’ back up,” Larry whined.
“Why dontcha wanna go home?” Joey asked sympathetically.
“We’ll wait for ya,
won’t we Ronnie?”
“Suppose.” Ronnie was annoyed. “So don’t crap your pants if you decide not to go home.”
“I don’t wanna go home ‘cause my mom’ll make me stay in and take a bath,” Larry said.
“Don’t-Crap-Your-Pants.” Ronnie threatened, pausing for emphasis after each word.
“It’s okay now,” Larry assured. “It’s okay.”
His mom would yell at him for the deep skid marks in his white skivvies.
His mom wondered how that could happen. “Doesn’t that boy wipe?” she wondered.
Larry was looking at Ronnie and then beyond him. At first he wasn’t sure what he was looking
at. Maybe it was a dimming streetlight ready to burn out. Then he saw the trees and houses disappearing into the grays of
night, and he knew exactly what it was. “Fogger!” he jumped up and yelled.
“Where?” everyone asked excitedly.
“There! Right there!” Larry bellowed and pointed north down 14th Street, from where the Fogger usually came.
The boys sprinted towards the Fogger like they were running the one-hundred-dash.
The summer breeze was blowing towards them, blowing the fog their way, and with the first whiff and bitter taste of the thick
ethereal haze, they whooped with delight. Soon they were floating in the fog, swimming in it, dancing in it, getting lost
in its ancient rhythm and hum. Time and distance meant nothing. All that mattered was staying in the soupy cloud and remaining
oblivious to the world around them. Nothing else existed but the world of dreams it created and the purpose it provided. The
only words spoke between them were, “Watch out for the pipe, it’ll burn you.” The pipe that belched out the fog got as red hot as the mouth
As quickly as the Fogger arrived, it disappeared, and they were standing
in the middle of some street in a dissipating murk thinning to nothing by the breezes of the summer night. The magic was gone.
That was how magic happened. It was here one minute and gone the next.
“Where are we?” Joey asked.
Ronnie looked for a street sign, and then everyone saw familiar landmarks
a block or two away. “There’s the DQ,”
“There’s Nelson’s, the place that sells Christmas trees and stuff,” Paulie said.
The Fogger had carried them four blocks. It was four blocks of distorted
time, four blocks of initiation. The route they took to get here was unknown, but one thing was for sure, the Fogger had safely
guided them across one of the busiest streets in town, South Avenue. The traffic was always constant if not heavy.
After the boys had gained familiarity with their present surroundings,
feeling like they had landed from a parachute drop, Larry yelled, “Play Kill!” They
always played Kill after following the Fogger.
“Everyone got their knife?” Ronnie asked.
They all dug into their pockets and brandished their weapons by unfolding
their jackknives. All the blades were about three inches long.
“You’re it,” Ronnie ordered.
“I don’t wanna be it,” Larry whined. “The last time I was it, Paulie cut me. I got blood
on my shirt, and my mom got really pissed. She said the Tide couldn’t get
it out.” Larry sneered at Paulie. “I know you did it on purpose.”
“No, I didn’t, you fat homo,” Paulie said.
“Paulie, don’t cut him this time,” Ronnie said. “You’re
it, Larry. That’s that.”
“Gall-damnit,” Larry conceded. He knew if he resisted anymore, Ronnie would slug him. Ronnie could beat up anyone
of them, and he had at one time or another. He had to.
The boys went to the streetlight closest to where the Fogger dropped
them. This was where they would play Kill. Then they waited, their adrenaline simmering on the verge of boiling, mixing with
prepubescent hormones. Joey bit his fingernails like there was no tomorrow. Paul swung back and forth on the wood street pole
until a sliver stuck him. “Jesus balls, that stings!” He tried to chew it out.
“You’re a dork, Paulie,” Ronnie said, as he momentarily stopped playing mumble peg with his own foot on a patch of grass on the corner. “You should know that would happen by doin’ that.”
Paulie glanced at Ronnie then diverted his eyes in shame, knowing
Ronnie was right. Paulie was more book smart than Ronnie, but Ronnie knew how to not look stupid. He just seemed to know how
to make the right choices that put him a step ahead of everyone else.
Ronnie resumed throwing the knife at his own foot. His aim was sharp.
At times he threw the knife inches from his foot. He never threw it so close as to risk hitting his foot. He would not chance
looking like a dumbshit like Paulie or the other guys. He pulled the knife out the ground and checked the blade’s sharpness with his thumb.
It felt a bit dull, so he sat down on the curb and honed the blade on the old smooth concrete gutter. Then he tested it again
with his thumb. “Yeah, it was working. It was fuckin’ sharp,”
Time slowed, and it felt like the boys were waiting forever for a
car to appear on Thirteenth Street. Thirteenth wasn’t a very busy street, but they knew they couldn’t play Kill on a really busy street. It was too risky.
It was a very warm and humid Sunday night in late August. There weren’t a lot of people out and about on Sunday nights, particularly when it was this sticky out. Most people
stayed indoors with air conditioning or in front of fans.
Larry plodded out into the middle of the street to watch for cars
coming their way. He held his hand above his brow like a Peter Pan Indian scout. He felt the part, but with his round belly
sticking out the bottom of his t-shirt, he looked nothing like the brave warrior he imagined himself, but even Larry knew
there was a difference between looking like something and being something. No one would ever guess by looking at him that
he had the killer instinct.
“Get out of the street, Larry. You look like a dumbass,” Ronnie said.
Larry ignored the order and kept his concentration. Then he yelled
and pointed, “Car heading this way!”
The others ran out. Sure enough about three blocks away a car headed
towards them. Now they had to hope that it wouldn’t turn off before it reached them. Then it was suddenly two blocks away, showing no
sign of turning. At a block away the boys leaped into action and began act as if they were beating the crap out of Larry.
They faked punches and kicks, pulling back from striking at the last instant to create as much authenticity as possible. Larry
doubled over and coiled like one of those bugs with a protective shell that rolls itself into a little ball. Larry was a big
ball, but he had no shell. Larry groaned as if in pain, but Paulie didn’t think he was convincing enough so he slugged him the back
with malicious intent. Larry saw a blue and white flash of pain a nanosecond before his brain registered it. Then his spine
went numb as if from a giant bee sting, and he lost his breath for a couple of excruciating seconds before he cried with a
The car slammed on its brakes. A man jumped out. “What the hell is going
Everyone but Larry scampered away into the shadows of the closest
yard to strip off their clothes. Larry sobbed quietly, feeling the pain of Paulie’s punch, as he lied under the streetlight and waited for the man to
approach. “I’ll get
that fucker Paulie,” he thought. He wasn’t consciously aware of it, the anger he was feeling towards
Paulie would benefit his participation in the game of Kill. The object of the game was to get a concerned citizen to stop
to help the poor beat up fat kid.
The man called to Larry, “Are you okay?”
Larry continued to lie still, sob quietly, and groan in between,
but he didn’t answer the man. In Kill the victim wasn’t supposed to answer,
at least not until the man was standing over you. The man called to Larry again, and when Larry didn’t answer the man rushed over fearing the worst. The man believed he was a good person, a person that did right thing.
He claimed to be a spiritual man, a man that believed everything happened for a reason. “You okay?” he asked and crouched down close to Larry. He was close
enough to smell the dirty ass sweat of Larry holding back his bowel movement. The man winced a little, and thought about little
boys, and the things little boys do, and he touched Larry on the shoulder. On this cue fat Larry rolled over clumsily but
sat up quickly, looked the man straight in the eye, and stabbed him in the guts. The look on the guy’s face, all buggy-eyed and pathetic would be mimicked and joked about later.
“What was? Ow! Damnit!” he said and jumped back.
Before he had a chance to realize what was actually happening to him, three naked boys appeared magically from the shadows
and pounced on him. They were a blur of white. Their peach fuzzy penises wagged while they wielded their small knives like
warriors. The hot humid summer night air left sheen on their smooth pristine bodies. The spattering blood mingling with sweat
incited their barbaric fury. Their violence was uninhibited. They couldn’t do enough damage.
Larry had completely removed himself from the fray after initiating
the attack. He didn’t want to get any blood on his clothes. After he stepped back he examined his clothes and sighed with relief when
saw that his white t-shirt was dirty but only from the day’s hard play.
His mom would kill him if he came home with blood on his shirt. He kept a lookout while his buddies tore up the man. “Get ‘em guys. Get ‘em good,” he said, gritting his teeth wishing he could be part of it. He knew by the time he stripped down it would be
The boys quickly stabbed the man into submission and then immobility.
They knew that if you poke someone in the neck enough times, he or she gives up pretty quickly. The person usually flailed
their arms, kicked their legs, and tried to get up to run away, but once that jugular started spurting blood it was all over.
Women made more noise. They always wanted to scream, so it was important to quiet her right away. There was no less fight
in the women, even though they were softer, their parts were softer.
Ronnie dug into the man’s back pocket
and grabbed his wallet. He peeked inside and saw a wad of bills. The boys ran back to the shadows of the yard where they left
their clothes and sprayed themselves down with a green garden hose. The cold water gave them goose bumps and made their genitals
shrivel. The diluted blood washed from their skin and fertilized the lawn below their feet. They were dressed and running
home in a couple of minutes.
Tomorrow they would feast on candy and gum until they could puke.
They would bicker, barter, and trade handfuls of new baseball cards. Summer would soon be over, and the Fogger would no longer
come. Next year the boys would be thirteen and less interested in pincer bugs or bats and chasing the Fogger would be replaced
with chasing budding girls. But as long as there was the Fogger there would be twelve year old boys to chase it.
Copyright © Mike
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