Editor’s note: This work of fiction originally appeared in Issue 30 of the Current Affairs print edition.
Things got bad bad once the Ravels were gone. Five-Oh swooped down and arrested damnear eighty of them and after that wasn’t nobody on the corners slingin but things wasn’t no safer. Up at the corner of Brainard and Josephine there was a murder at five or six in the evening. I say “murder” cause what else you’d call it? Wasn’t even boys from the neighborhood. Ole Ronny was just riding his bike like he do and three boys started grittin on him and woofin at him, saying they was gone take his wheels. He said leave him alone, but they didn’t and he called down a piece of the night and it wrapped around two of them, caught em up and then dropped them down from real high, hit the third boy and he just lay in the street with his spine broke and ruined bodies piled on top of him and he didn’t die til later in the hospital. Wasn’t no shit like that when the Ravels was still around. Monster shit.
Vampires ain’t so bad. They’re predictable, mostly. Yeah, they need blood, but they only out at night and somebody got to give them permission. In the movies they need permission to come inside but in real life they need permission to get you at all. Anybody can give permission, though.
At least they got rules. Dogheads don’t need permission for nothing.
Me and Lonzo went to George Price High over on O. C. Haley. Lonzo was tall with big hands and feet, but he gangled and couldn’t coordinate. He could play a little ball, but he wasn’t real good. Didn’t make the team. I didn’t either, but I didn’t try.
I’m wrong, though. It wasn’t that Lonzo couldn’t coordinate—he was fine. He just didn’t have a competitive spirit. If you blocked his shot, if you scored on his goal, he didn’t care. He couldn’t really pretend that a game was more than a game. He couldn’t chase.
We lived over on Simon Bolivar—more like brothers than neighbors. He lived next door to me and Aunt Sharon on the far side of a cream-colored double with faded red trim. It had a nice porch, and the old folks would sit out there and drink or play dominos and talk trash. The thing about Lonzo is he had a hard time. Something bout him that just got on some niggas’ nerves, so they would devil him at school. I looked out for him when I could. I was never king of my class or nothing. People respected me, especially once I started cutting hair, but wasn’t nobody afraid of me or nothing. I wasn’t hard and I didn’t pretend to be.
Nobody made it their business to be on Lonzo all the time but sometimes Rel Howard or somebody would smack his books out his hands or throw his book sack in the dirty shower water after Gym. That kind of shit. You know how sometimes somebody mess with you and then you mess back a little maybe, or you let him know you too much trouble to keep fuckin with and he back down and you forget about it because it wasn’t really nothing? Well, Lonzo couldn’t do that. Grown folks would tell him roll it off ya back, but every time wasn’t just its own little happening, it was—each little incident was connected, I guess, with the one before and the one after so they was sort of all stitched together contiguous like one of my Aunt Sharon’s quilts she makes. He couldn’t just let shit go.
But that sounds like he held onto shit on purpose, which ain’t the case. He wasn’t bitter, you know? He just remembered. You could see it in his eyes and the way his throat worked when he bent to pick up his things. Rel was harmless though I thought and just liked to have somebody to threaten when he felt small. It must be hard feelin like you ain’t got no control over nothing.
So the Ravels got got, and at first things was quiet. That year, there wasn’t even no fireworks at New Year’s. The quiet was all tense at first, but then the longer it went on, it was like it relaxed—or it didn’t relax but you thought maybe you was wrong, and just nothin was happening and things was fine. . . Even after that shit with Ronny. Every now and then you’d see somebody went missing years ago just standing on the corner staring, you know? Like me and Lonzo seen Ms. Pearline from over on Saint Andrew just standing outside the community center one night while we was riding our bikes back from Coliseum Park. She was wearing one of her old lady nightgowns and staring real hard down Camp Street. It was like she was looking out on some other world.
That wasn’t a big deal, though. We just didn’t ride around so much after that. Later I heard Ms. Pearline was back living in her house. Them white folks bought the place was gone and she was just back in there. It was just something happened.
Then the cops killed Aubrey Lincoln. Aubrey was a crackhead, but not like on TV. He didn’t steal and he wasn’t hassling nobody for money. He might ask you for a cigarette even if you didn’t smoke, but he wasn’t doing nothing to nobody. He lived with his cousin on St. Andrew and Daneel and he was gay so maybe tricked a little sometimes but that’s whatever.
Folks saw three cop cars in the parking lot behind the old Myrtle Banks building—the one the white folks is opening back up as a fancy grocery—and the lights was all going, and I heard they had Aubrey cuffed on the ground but they shot him eleven times. You woulda never seen some shit like that in the Ravel days. I’m not saying they was good folks—they was killin niggas and running bitches and poisoning folks with rock and whatnot, but they was orderly, you feel me? They had a chain of command, and the cops didn’t fuck with them
After that, police was around more. Cop cars cruising up and down Baronne, on Bolivar. Three four nights a week, cops would park they cars in the lot outside the old Barbershop at Josephine and Haley and they’d just sit and talk at each other out their windows and you could feel them even when you wasn’t looking at them like on a real sunny day when you shut your eyes and see a red glow from the light but like it’s shining from inside your own head. I think that’s when the cold began, but I didn’t notice it til later.
Me and Lonzo and Billy D was hooping over at A. L. Davis, and time got away. All of the sudden, it was full dark and we had to go. Wasn’t nothing had happened for a few weeks, what with the police all over. Didn’t even see no dead folks or nothing. So we got on our bikes and we was riding home—
And there was three of them outside the Chicken Mart.
One had on a old letter jacket from De La Salle even though it was nice out. He was short but broad broad across his chest. He was just standing but he looked coiled up like a spring. His head was a mix of dogs. There mighta been some boxer in there, some shar pei, because he had jowls and wrinkles, and he had this splash of white on his forehead with these pretty light-brown spots, you know? And his eyes was big and tired, and you could tell he was smart.
The one on his right was a Doberman. He wore some ripped jeans and a diagonal-striped polo. The third was like a Rottweiler. None of them said nothing when we rode past, and I thought maybe I should speak but everything seemed slow and I knew I would be past before I could make up my mind. You gotta speak to folks out here, it will save your life, but they wasn’t people.
And then I heard Lonzo’s voice from far off, saying, “How y’all is?”
“Beautiful, beautiful,” one of them said.
“Killer breeze,” another one said.
And I said, “Yeahyouright,” and I nodded sharp with my chin like we understood each other.
But we didn’t. I didn’t.
They found the first cop that week. Officer Schreiber. He pulled up out front the barbershop and before anybody could join him he got yanked out his Bronco and worked on and then stuffed dead back in the passenger seat just left there to find. I heard he was one of the cops killed Aubrey, but I also heard he wasn’t even there.
We was over at Aunt Sharon’s for Sunday dinner. It was me and Lonzo and Uncle Trev and Keely and this cop knocked on the door asking questions. I watched Aunt Sharon fix her face on the way to the door. She dulled herself, made herself smaller and like she didn’t have nothing to say about nothing. So the cop knew before he asked her she didn’t know. She sucked her teeth and said, “What a waste. What a waste,” and hummed high in her throat like when she on the phone.
The cop said, “Take my card. Get in touch if you hear anything.” And as soon as she shut the door, the light came back into her face and she grunted that grunt that says, well now I’ve heard everything, and dropped the card in the kitchen trash.
“You think somebody put a vampire on him?” Lonzo said. His eyes all glossy and shining.
“Naw,” Aunt Sharon said. “Too much blood.”
Officer Harbaugh was next. Now I know he wasn’t there the night Aubrey got killed, but he done some other shit. I heard him say to Ronny at the block party, “You know if I shot you right now, wouldn’t nothing happen to me.” His voice was up, and light, like there wasn’t nothing to it, but you know cops. They think they wear they police-ness in their uniform and when they take it off, it ain’t with them, but they also know that’s not true, ya feel me? And Ronny said, “I been knowing that.” And they just watched each other.
I mean to say I ain’t heard nothing else about him. Not like some other officers I could mention. But they found him all torn up outside the Jazz Market. Well, most of him. Some of him was across the street, and some more of him was about a block down. Like he was drawn and quartered like in them cowboy movies but it wasn’t neat. And that cold that only I could feel. Not cold like the seasons turning. Like I had this feeling of the sun going down even though it was the middle of the day. Like the lights never came all the way on anymore, and everything was getting thinner and more washed-out, but it was all scoured by the dark instead of the light.
I missed a couple days of school after Mardi Gras break, but I didn’t miss them. I got extension cords and I posted up on the porch and I cut niggas’ hair for ten dollars. I made nine hundred dollars in three days. People was coming from other neighborhoods. I didn’t ignore Lonzo, though. We still hung out to watch old VHS tapes his cousin had with Yo MTV Raps on ’em and clowned all them old niggas with Africa medallions and geometric hair.
But I didn’t see him at school for a few days, and I didn’t see him back at the house neither, and Nicole and Gigi said Lonzo was hiding out because Rel and his crew was gone jump him next chance they got. I said jump him why, and they didn’t know. So I asked Aunt Sharon and she said Lonzo was staying by his cousin on the Wank. I didn’t like that.
So I got Aunt Sharon to take me over there, and when I walked into his cousin’s and saw Lonzo sitting on the couch with his left eye swole shut I felt hot hot. It wasn’t like the other times. I guess cause they hit him in the face? Shoving him a little or knocking him down was one thing, but there was something about banging up his eye like that that bothered me. Like they really wanted to hurt him. And I could tell from the way he talked that his ribs was cracked, and he smelled different.
Real calm, I said, “What happened?”
And Lonzo said, “I don’t know. I was crossing the parking lot at Church’s after I got off the bus, and somebody hit me in the back of the head. They grabbed me and then Rel hit me in the face and kicked me.”
I couldn’t feel the look on my face, but Lonzo flinched. “Don’t do nothing though,” he said.
I decided I’d just find out Rel’s side and maybe take it into account. I knew what I wanted to do, but I knew it was wrong, too. There’s rules in life and if you gone operate outside them best have good reason.
I said before nobody afraid of me, and they ain’t, but they don’t know. Sometimes my mouth full of razors. If you fuck with me, I will say some shit to you that will fuck your shit up. Like when we was in Elementary school and the other kids was learning how to cuss and Semaj Bunton called me a bitch and I said, Nigga, your eyes too far apart. Your mama drank when she was having you and that’s why you can’t do math.
We wasn’t friends after that, but he didn’t fuck with me.
A couple more police. One of the Ravels that didn’t get got in the sweep. Mean old motherfucker named Zell who dressed like it was still 1993 in baggy black jeans and them white white T-shirts you can’t wear more than once. The week before he and his old lady got into it outside the social worker’s office. He hit her so hard her eye socket broke. They found him in three garbage bins, side by side.
More dead folks. Old Patrice would show up at the basketball court if you stayed out there too late, asking for cigarettes. He was harmless, but he got burnt to death and worse than they way he looked was the smell. He smelled like a fuckin cook-out, and just thinking about it makes my mouth water. Shame the way that nigga died, smoking in bed.
It was coming up on Spring, but that ghost-cold was getting worse. Lonzo came back across the river, but somebody stole his bike, so we was on foot for the time being. We walked in a big square down to Washington and then up to Magazine and over to the park, then back down Felicity, just going slow and talking shit. Shit was still spooky, but not so bad—I think I saw a little boy staring at us from the top floor of that burnt-out apartment complex on Washington just before Saint Charles, but Lonzo didn’t look. Anyway, as we turned back down toward Central City, Lonzo said, “I think I need your help with something.”
“What you thinkin bout?” I’d been thinking so hard on what to do about Rel I guess I forgot Lonzo was thinking bout it too. Rel didn’t do nothing after Lonzo came home, but we didn’t have forever to let the issue ride.
“You remember Antoine Dupre?”
Twonn was a sweet skinny soft-headed boy used to help out at the Chicken Mart for a couple extra dollars from time to time. Mostly nobody bothered him. Mostly. He didn’t come back to school when the new year started, he wasn’t on my mind, but I hadn’t seen him since the police started dying.
“What about him?”
“He a doghead now.”
I stopped walking. “Excuse… the fuck… me…?” Dogheads standing around on corners is one thing, but if they was turning folks now, that spelled real trouble for the neighborhood.
“That’s what I heard, though,” and Lonzo’s voice was high. I could tell my reaction unsettled him.
I covered. “That don’t sound crazy to you?”
“I mean, he was gone. I reckoned he was like the other folks been turning up.”
I made myself sound thoughtful. “You know what, though? Could be.”
Aunt Sharon was working on a new quilt. She sat in the living room with the TV on too loud, her mouth full of pins as she ran the squares through her sewing machine. Wheel of Fortune came and went, and then Jeopardy and I was just sitting there thinkin and I waited until I felt her notice me, and I said, “Lonzo says Antoine Dupre a doghead.”
She swept the pins into her left hand and sucked her teeth. “Well.”
“Lonzo said he heard that.”
“‘Heard nothing,’” Aunt Sharon said. “I seen that boy at the Chicken Mart just last night.”
“Why you didn’t say?”
“Didn’t think it was important,” she said. “You think he the one killin up all them police?”
I didn’t say nothing. On the TV a white couple was digging in a suspicious mushroom patch thinking it was part of some treasure hunt they was on. Oops! Turns out they dug up a skull.
I laughed, but I could feel Aunt Sharon’s eyes on me.
“Didn’t seem important,” she said again. She sighed. “We do what we do and they do what they do.”
I didn’t tell Aunt Sharon I was going out that night. I just made extra noise in the hall closet looking for my shoes and then I hid them back out of sight. Aunt Sharon said she seen him, but I had to see Twonn for myself.
I headed down to the corner where Simon Bolivar meets Jackson and from there I could see the dogheads laughing and talking out front of the store. I crossed the street, but not all the way. I stood in the shadow under the oak on the neutral ground, right by the transformer, and just watched.
The Chicken Mart had shut for the night. The lights were off now, the parking lot empty, and the dogheads just stood out there in their bare not-paws-not-feet swaying sometimes like seaweed in a underwater current. There was four of them this time. The Boxer/Shar Pei wore a pair of bleach-spotted jeans, and I couldn’t tell whether they was supposed to be like that or somebody fucked them up in the wash.
The one that hadn’t been there the first time Lonzo and I seen them was smaller than the rest. He looked a little like a boxer, and his fur was dark, but there was something about the shape of his head. About the way his shoulders seemed pulled up in a kind of constant shrug. Not a boxer. A mastiff, but mixed with something. He looked younger than the others and sure enough when he pulled out a cigarette he had to shift his head to smoke it, and that was Twonn all right.
He took a drag, then another. He looked this way and that, and he hunched, like he was smoking in the rain.
I started barking. Made myself sound real big and mean. The dogheads all tensed and stretched their necks and smelled the air. I didn’t see Antoine drop his cigarette, but now his hands were empty and his head was a doghead again. The way he moved, his body language, looked just like everybody else’s. Like he’d always been one of them. He growled. I couldn’t hear it but I could see the noise vibrate his body.
I stilled my voice mid-bark and let the sound ring in the empty intersection and the parking lot.
They started pacing. Each one prowling like a comedian on a stage. Twonn still looked like one of them. Like he was born for it.
Eventually, Twonn broke off from the group and jogged across Jackson toward that old warehouse type thing without walls where they be selling fruit on the weekends. He didn’t look in my direction. Instead, he turned up toward Saint Charles and shifted human again. He swung his legs out some when he ran. We used to make fun of him for that when he first started at school with us in third grade. I followed him, like I was just walking.
He went all the way up to Carondelet then cut over to Saint Andrew, then came back down across Baronne, then Haley. I let him walk on the right side of the street while I took the the left.
I knew Ronny was there before I seen him. I didn’t expect him to say nothing. He stepped hard onto the sidewalk with his fists balled. His face was all thrust out in front of him like he was a doghead too, but he was just a man.
He looked at me out the corner of his right eye then turned his head, still leading with his face. “Love me this springtime, baby,” he said. “Love.”
“Can’t beat the weather,” I said.
“Can’t beat it,” he said. But he wasn’t agreeing. “Can’t be beat.”
“Wa’ant right what happened to Zell,” he said. “All in them trash cans one two three.”
I shook my head. “Wasn’t nothing nice.”
“He was kin to me.”
I forgot about Twonn. “He was what?”
“He was kin.”
“Oh word?” I said. My voice was bright. “You was cousins, you and him?”
He watched me, then looked away. He looked like a stone carving or a angry little doll. Something that got more respect than it deserved. “On my mama side,” he said. “Distant.”
“You look out for yaself outchear, Ronny, ya heard? Never know who all out here….”
By then, Twonn was long gone, but it be that way sometimes.
The next day at school, I stuck with Lonzo close as I could but our schedules wasn’t always the same. He was in precalculus, but I was in trig, and we didn’t have the same lunch. I skipped Government and went to his lunch anyhow. The cafeteria and the gym was combined, so the baskets were drawn up out of the way and the tables was lined up like soldiers waiting for inspection. The ghost-cold was still bothering me, but we weren’t allowed to wear jackets over our uniforms, and anyway that wouldna helped. The whole room smelled like orange oil with an unusual touch of bleach from three weeks ago when Ri-Ri threw up.
Lonzo sat by himself at the end of a table in the far corner. A group of freshman sat at the other end playing keep-away with Coke bottles and checking out a group of sophomore girls at the next table.
Lonzo looked surprised when I sat my tray down next to his and peeled the skin back from my beefaroni pack. “You with me today?”
“Just tryna find out what you need help with.”
“Help?” Lonzo’s American Literature textbook sat on the table by his tray, so I knew he was intending to read all through the period. I had this feeling then like why was he studying at lunch? Was it because he didn’t get time to study last night?
“About Rel and them?” I said.
“Oh,” he said, too surprised. “Yeah, well, I think that trouble gone resolve itself, ya heard?”
“Oh?” I said. On God I wished I hadn’t acted the way I did when he told me about Twonn. I had to be cool cool now because not only did I want to hide my frustration with him, I didn’t want him seeing my irritatedness with my own self.
“Yeah, you good.”
My chest felt tight. I needed the words to say what I was trying to say, but it wasn’t easy like it shoulda been. “Listen, bruh,” I said. “You my dog, bruh. You my abc.”
“Yeah,” he said. And there was no struggle, no scariness on his face. He was just—he looked young. No, he looked new, like if time was a cooking fire he was still raw, and he hadn’t seen what he would see and the world hadn’t printed itself on him the way we shaped our sculptures in art class.
“I mean there ain’t nothing wrong with me lookin out for you. I’m your dog, dog.”
He looked me in the eye and reached for his chocolate milk. He tried to open it with his left hand without looking, but he couldn’t quite, so he looked away to the carton and I wanted him to stop messing with it, to keep looking at me and it bothered me how bad I wanted him to see me. For real for real.
He said, “Yeah, but you know.”
He looked back up at me then and he looked even younger, even rawer than before, and he said, “You a year ahead of me. What I’m gone do when you graduate and I’m by myself? What I’m gone do at college?”
I watched him a little then I opened my Sprite. I said, “You act like I ain’t thinking bout that shit too.”
“But that’s what I mean,” he said. “That’s my shit.”
“Listen, I ain’t trying to run your life, I’m just tellin you: stay away from them doghead boys. They don’t—You don’t know what they… They’s monsters, feel me?”
“Ravels was monsters. If I’m a doghead, at least–!”
I brought my palms down hard on the tabletop. “Nigga, not like that!”
That was the moment. That instant right there. It was—I think it was my tone. Sometimes I think I was the only one who never made him feel small, who never made him feel weak. But I slipped. He didn’t see much, but he saw too much.
His chocolate milk had spilled when I hit the table. He set the carton right again, in its pale brown pool, and the way his wrist curled said, You were with me, but now you’re not. You’re outside of me and you don’t understand.
Wednesday was our half-day and Lonzo was supposed to stay and help plan the Spring Festival. I was going to set up a booth and cut hair in the parking lot across the street. It was official/unofficial. Still, I knew as soon as I touched my locker, even before I opened it, that Lonzo was gone. That tightness was still in my chest, and it combined with that cold feeling to make my skin crawl. I had to work to keep my shoulders from drifting up to my ears. Anyone was paying attention woulda seen too much, so I blew off the meeting and just headed out.
It shoulda been easy to trail him—and it was, at first. He’d gone back up to Haley and then down a couple blocks before going to Bolivar. It was the afternoon and it was bright out. The birds was singing, and the sun was bright, and it was a little too hot out. Finally. I smelled cut grass and the kitchen and cleaning from Café Reconcile. I smelt the liquor and perfume over at the Jazz Market.
And then it was like all them smells and all the other signals from my senses sort of turned up and blended on me. You know when you on the street and somebody drives your way with their brights on, and the light washes everything out and you can’t see? It was like that, except it was sounds and smells and the breeze and that cold cold cold.
It wasn’t that I couldn’t take nothing in and that I couldn’t find him, but it was, too. I went around in circles. I went places Lonzo hadn’t been in days and days, and every time felt like now, just now. And that ain’t right.
I think that’s how it happened. I went around in circles, for blocks and blocks, winding in a sort of cornered spiral. Whenever someone spoke to me, I said, “You seen Lonzo?” and if they said no, I just kept walking like I ain’t have no manners.
When the dark started to come on, I could parse his smell again. The scent of the cologne his uncle gave him for Christmas and his blood underneath, bright and a little sweaty from where the sun touched his bare arms and legs and the hollows of his neck. That’s how I found him. I went back up Saint Ann even though I’d already gone up there past that place we call the zombie house because it looked all abandoned like a house in a zombie movie but also it was a home that would not just lay down and die.
I went in the back and I found him on the dirty floor. My eyes almost wouldn’t have recognized him, and his smell was all wrong, too, but that cologne was still there, and a sort of echo of him. He looked— It’s bad when somebody gets stuck Between. I saw it before, once. One of my Cousin Leti’s quadruplets was born sick, and it didn’t come out stuck, but it got that way later in the night, and wasn’t nothing could be done to help.
That was the worst thing: its eyes were calm like it knew what it was happening. Like it understood. If the eyes had been lost or crazy with pain or or anything else, maybe, it wouldn’t have been so bad. When Lonzo’s swollen eyes struggled open, they were big and brown and deep, flecked with gold, and they were still his.
His mouth was all wet and ruined and red from where his new teeth half-split his gums. I was all shaky, but sometimes when there’s trouble you ain’t got time to just stand around feeling shit, so I didn’t. He was lying on the dirty floor in a pool of his own blood and shit and piss and whatnot and the bite on his arm stank like disease. I said, Why you wouldn’t listen to me? I tried to tell you and why you didn’t just fuckin listen?
I almost lost it. I almost came apart then, but I didn’t. I killed him quick so he wouldn’t suffer, but I didn’t go crazy. I didn’t go crazy until after.
Maybe I wouldn’t have done what I did if one of them had stayed with him. Maybe if one of them had stayed in that stinking fuckin room full of mold and debris and nasty blankets, if one of them had kept trying to help him through I would have—mercy ain’t really the word, but I wouldn’t have been as mad.
I wasn’t thinking when I found them at the Chicken Mart. I know folks found Ronny out front of his house all pulled-apart, and I don’t remember that, but you ask me he had it coming. Them kids he killed didn’t deserve what they got. And when the last boy was lying there in the street with his back broke, Ronny shoulda done right and ended him.
If they was still at the Chicken Mart that meant they thought it was a normal night. That meant wasn’t more than one or two of them tried to turn Lonzo, and maybe they didn’t deserve to die but yes they did.
If I’d been thinking, I wouldna thrown Doberman-head through the mart’s doors. I woulda just pulled his arms and legs off and left him there, but I could smell that he was the one. He was the one that made the bite, so I decided to do him last. I tossed him away to do Twonn and the other one. He was still alive, so he tried to climb into the store through the hole his body made in the glass. I caught him by his legs and dragged him out shrieking.
I saw me in the glass. My blood is royal, so it’s not just my top that changes. It’s not canine hair that grows on my limbs. We are not dogs and we are not wolves, we issue from the beast-god who mated with the black earth, from the god of Hunt and Carnage, and when I show myself, mortals cower.
Someone called a vampire on me. Someone must have seen what I did and called out. Ronny couldna called nothing or nobody with his bottom jaw and his tongue tore out. The one that came out the branches of the oak as I stalked toward home was shocked to see me. It wasn’t pure either, just some white-faced Goth motherfucker moved down after the Storm and sacrificed himself to an Elder.
I didn’t speak to it or make a sound. Didn’t even stop walking. I just extended a claw and pointed at it. It froze for a second, then darted back up and away.
Thou shalt not dilute the blood.
That is the law.
The Ravels didn’t know that, they just had a vested interest in keeping monsters from multiplying in Central City. If they was still around, Lonzo coulda just gone to them for help instead of–! Instead of how things wound up.
Nowdays, these motherfuckers stay coming here. They see in the movies or they read in their shitty little books that there’s ghosts and spirits and other shit down here in New Orleans and they come to join the romance. Usually, if they look hard enough for long enough, they find someone to share the blood like a disease, turn them into something weak and diminished. A goth bitch in a funeral dress. A hood nigga with the head of a dog. Scum lacking any understanding or respect for our ways.
I knew Aunt Sharon wouldn’t want me tracking blood on her carpet, so I shifted back and went to the backyard to rinse off with the hose. When I turned to the door, she was standing there on the concrete patio shaking her head at me.
“They won’t remember,” I said. “They’ll barely notice.”
“Nigga, that’s a good thing,” she said. “You don’t know because you young.”
“Some things shouldn’t be forgot.”
“And some things must be,” she said. “Must.”
“They steal our power and then they use it to turn our home into the Wild fuckin West. You ask me, they ain’t really forgot, and if they did, they need reminding.”
“Didn’t nobody ask you,” she said. “Didn’t nobody call your fuckin name. You shoulda bit that boy yourself and been done with it if you loved him so much. Instead you was busy hunting police.”
“Naw. No. No!” I knew the whole time I was standing there naked, but now I felt it. I felt seen in a way I’d been taught never to allow. “You wrong for that, Aunt Sharon. You wrong! I ain’t never hurt nobody ain’t had it coming!”
“Until tonight. You think all them dogheads turned your boy?” She didn’t wait for me to answer. “I don’t care who your daddy is in Darkest Africa. You want to stay living in my house you live by my rules. No more more gangsters and you leave them fuckin police alone!”
I covered my face with my hands and sobbed. Now I felt old old. Ancient and heavy as one of them heads on Easter Island. When I looked back up at her, she didn’t seem angry anymore, but she ain’t no easier to read than I am.
“You really think I shoulda turnt him myself?”
“Of course not, baby,” she said. “It woulda been wrong.” But I knew, then. I knew the rest, that she wasn’t saying: It woulda been wrong, but if you had, he’d still be alive.
And she’s right. Killing Rel and his crew wouldn’t have solved Lonzo’s problem. He was right. What would he do at school by himself? At college? Afterwards? I couldn’t be with him all the time, unless we . . .
. . . I couldn’t be with him all the time.
I know where Aunt Sharon is: she’s out stalking the neighborhood, making sure nobody knows the mess I made for what it is. Me, I’m lying on my bed, staring at the ceiling in the dark of my bedroom.
Killing Rel won’t bring Lonzo back, and I know it’s the wrong thing to do but I will lie here until Aunt Sharon comes home, and even after that, until sleep changes her scent, and then I will pay each of Rel’s boys a little visit. I will save Rel Howard for last, and best believe, I will show him all of me.
Alex Jennings’ writing has appeared in New Suns, Podcastle, and Strangehorizons.com. His novel, The Ballad of Perilous Graves will be released in 2022 by Orbit/Red Hook. Born in Germany, he trotted the globe until settling in New Orleans. Before the pandemic, he MCed a literary readings series called Dogfish. This summer, he’ll be teaching Writing for the Real World: Speculative Fiction, an in-person writing course at The New Orleans Center for Creative Arts. Sign up here. He is also fundraising to return to graduate school and complete his MA. Pitch in here.