“I’m not stealing a Bible!” Peter
Nat’s Black Death long
sleeve shirt sagged off his wire frame; he looked ready to
disappear on the autumn breeze like a kite without a string. “Come
on, man,” Nat said as he kicked the loose gravel from the surface
of the baseball diamond. “I’d boost one myself, but they won’t
even let me back in church.”
Peter shook his head. “You stole
from the collection plate, dumbass!” Nat flinched at the anger
in Peter’s voice. Peter’s home life wasn’t peachy by Brock
P.S. standards. Mom was gone three years this July. Dad worked
nights, forgot his birthday the past three years, and yelled
like Satan on a bender whenever the Leafs lost a series.
But Nat’s place…
“I really need your help,” Nat
said. He always did. His mom sold dope and rumor was she did
more than that. Some Friday in September, Nat had boosted some
of her weed. They scored some Zigzag papers and in the ravine
they’d hacked their guts out and laughed their asses off. That
Monday, Nat had a shiner from “some bullies,” which Peter figured
wasn’t exactly a lie, but barely the truth. His nerves worsened
every week after that.
Peter calmed himself. “What the
hell do you need a Bible for?”
“I can’t tell you.”
“Come on, dude.”
“No, you’ll just laugh at me.”
“You’re not that funny.”
Nat smirked. “Ok, but don’t laugh.
I need a Bible to get a wish.”
It was all Peter could do to
keep from chuckling. “You’re thinking of a genie’s lamp, stupid.”
Nat’s face scrunched. “I don’t
plan on rubbing it. I gotta…burn one. On Halloween. To get
Peter burst. “That’s crazy! Who
told you this crap?”
Nat’s eyes stayed locked on the
gravel. “It’s written in the Devil’s Handbook.”
Peter had a copy of the Devil’s
Handbook. It came with the latest Fleshwound CD. It had
instructions for all sorts of Satanic junk to spook you.
Peter loved Fleshwound, but the lyrics were just stupid,
evil-for-evil-sake stuff. They pissed people off, which was
good enough for Peter. “Nat, that’s just a joke, a gimmick.”
“What if it’s true?”
“Then Fleshwound would be rich
or have superpowers, not touring the U.S. in a cargo van!”
Nat shook his head. “You didn’t
decode the hidden script. It can only be done once every hundred
years, and only if all the fans do it on Halloween, and not
everyone gets it, just one, and—” Nat shut up as his eyes gazed
“Looks like civil war in the
Peter spun around to see a wall
of kids laughing, smiling, and pointing. Each one wore clean
clothes, had shoes not held together with duct tape, and seen
a barber in the past year. The Captains of Industry of Brock
P.S., Gordon Shift, the pudgy mouthpiece, snorted at his own
joke. Next to him was Duncan Thistle, smoking a cigarette,
eyes smiling. “You guys dressed for the Halloween party a day
early,” Duncan said.
“Every day is Halloween to them!” Gordon
countered. The wall of kids laughed.
“Screw you, Gordzilla.” Peter
said. God, how he hated every clean-shirted one of them.
“Watch it, McAllister,” Duncan
said. “You’re outgunned and outclassed. And your boyfriend
looks like he’s gonna piss his pants.” Nat shivered on the
spot, hands in pockets, silent.
“And you’re a pussy hiding behind
Like that they were at
it. The Fight! Fight! chant filled Peter’s head as he
and Duncan threw wild fists and savage kicks and finally tumbled
to the ground.
Peter got in one good shot. His
knuckle stung against the cigarette’s burning heater, driving
it into Duncan’s lip.
Duncan screeched, stumbling to
his feet. “Get him!”
The wall piled on his legs, immobilizing
Duncan dropped his knees on Peter’s
shoulders. He grabbed Peter’s chin with his left hand. In his
right was the crushed but still lit cigarette pinched between
his fingers. Peter squirmed uselessly.
“Eye for an eye!”
The heater bit into his lip with
sheering, deep pain. Peter screamed as the bell rang.
The wall scrambled. Peter got
up, shaking, ready to puke. He covered his lip with spit to
cool the biting pain.
Nat still stood there, hands
in his pockets.
“You know I ain’t good in a fight,” Nat
Anger boiled Peter’s blood to
steam. “How would you know? You ever throw a punch? You ever
even kicked anyone? I’d rather you fought like a sissy than
just stand there and watch. Just once I wish you had my back!” Peter
marched away with an inflamed lip on rubber legs. The blood
pounded in his ears so hard it took a moment to hear the sobs.
Peter stopped, turned around.
Nat shook in his thin long sleeve shirt, face bone white.
Peter walked back. “Roll up your
sleeves,” he said, spit dripping from his fat lip.
Nat’s face soured but he did
as he was told.
He was tattooed. Bruises. Burns.
“I’m sorry.” Nat said. “I just,
I can’t take another shot.”
Peter covered his sore mouth. “Jesus,
Nat, you gotta tell someone.”
“They’ll kill me! They said they
would!” Tears streamed. “I need a wish.” Pete tried to speak
but Nat kept talking. “I need a wish to get somewhere safe.
Or else I’m running.”
Pete took a long breath. “But,
this is wrong. I don’t like church, but burning a Bible.
It’s just wrong.”
Nat sniffed. “A lot of things
are wrong. Maybe two wrongs can make a right.”
Peter wanted Duncan to eat his
fists, so he found it hard to argue with Nat’s logic. “You
could stay with me.”
“Your dad hates me, and you’re
no Donald Trump.”
Both true. Dad’s only fatherly
advice had been to avoid the weak and the unlucky, and he considered
Nat to be both.
Brain on empty, Peter spoke. “I’ll
see if I can snag one.”
Nat sniffed, asked if he was
sure and Peter said yeah, no big deal. “But, if it doesn’t
work, we gotta tell someone about those marks. Promise me that
or I won’t do it. Deal?”
Nat shrugged. “Ok.” Peter nodded,
wishing he was smarter.
Nat called that night as Peter
was boiling a hot dog for dinner, and the plan was made. Tomorrow,
Halloween, they’d meet up at Fisher Park a half-hour before
midnight. There was a fire pit in the ravine that they could
use. At two minutes to midnight, the good book was toast.
Peter sat at the kitchen table,
Mom’s old KJV Bible in one hand. He sat there, mind
buzzing on any other way out. Hours passed. He brooded. No
revelations came. He went to bed, praying for something to
stop them from doing the deed.
The school’s Halloween party
lasted from 3:15 to 4:30 p.m. Pete and Nat sat in the back
of the class as all the kids in costumes laughed and ate pizza
and bobbed for apples and listened to Britney Spears ask to
be hit, baby, one more time. It was hell.
“So?” Nat whispered. “Did you
“Yeah,” Peter said, yawning. “No
“Did you boost it from church?”
“Nah, I had a spare.”
They looked at the class of army
men, runway models, superheroes, and dancers. Each costume
bought with hard money that wasn’t desperately needed for a
secondhand fridge motor, or the overdue gas bill, or an emergency
“What are you going to wish for?” Nat
Peter grimaced at the laughing
kids. “That we didn’t need wishes.”
They met at 11:30 at the moonlit
gate of Fisher Park, hopped the fence, and worked their way
down the park path that led to the side trails. The place was
Nat led the way, down the trail’s
well-tread path, toward the ravine, into the little stretch
of woods that housed Miller creek. Blue moonlight revealed
teenager trash: condoms, cigarette butts, crushed beer cans
and broken bottles. They tramped through the crud and came
out to the clearing that held a circle of stones and a log
They scrounged some sticks and
Nat produced a rusty flask. “I boosted some lighter fluid,
you know, just to speed things up.” He dripped a few drops
on the kindling then took a pack of matches from his pocket.
“Do the trick,” Pete told him.
Nat smiled. Quicker than a speeding
bullet, Nat removed and lit a match by only using the fingers
on his left hand; just about the most useful thing his dad
had ever taught him. Pretty soon they had a solid fire roaring
for their sacrilege.
“What time is it?” Nat said,
throwing a stick into the flames.
“We got ten minutes,” Peter said,
mind racing to find someway out of what he quickly realized
was a stupid idea. Maybe when it was done Nat would see it
was all bull and that they had to tell a grown up and get him
Feet crunched leaves. Voices.
“Teenagers,” Peter whispered.
Monsters couldn’t hold a candle
to the bare-knuckle nightmare of wasted teens out for kicks
“Let’s go,” Peter said, preparing
Nat grabbed him. “It’s almost
The crunching got louder and
the voices cackled and laughed until one of them mentioned
the fire. Then silence.
Peter’s heart punched his chest
like a speedbag. He nodded at the woods, too scared to speak.
Nat just grabbed tighter. Too late.
Three large forms rustled through
the trees and came into the fire pit. Each wore a different
colored lumber jacket. The one in blue had red hair and was
built like a hockey goon, all shoulders and few teeth. The
one in grey had messy black hair covering his eyes and a perma-smile
on his face. But the one in the lead, the one in the red flannel,
was so white he looked like a ghost. His eyes were red. And
“Mike Sharp,” Nat said as the
deadliest shitkicker from Baker High marched into the glow
of the fire. That meant the redhead was Steve Rowan and Mr.
Happy was Weezer Mitchell. Collectively, they were known as
the D-Boys. D for Destruction.
“Just some kids!” Steve said,
relieved. “Man, I must be high! I thought it was Freddy!”
“Or Jaws!” Weezer said, hacking
his trademark laugh.
“You turds ain’t welcome here,” Mike
said, red eyes flickering in the firelight. “Beat it.”
Slowly, gently, Peter stood,
pulling Nat up with him. “You’re the boss.”
“Got that right, dipshit,” Mike
said. Rumor was Mike had knifed someone in the eye during a
pool hall fight, but everyone was too scared to finger him.
Peter moved a foot before, then felt resistance. He pulled.
Nat wouldn’t budge. “What’s the retard’s problem?” Mike said. “Better
scram while I’m still buzzing ‘cause if you stick around I’ll
roast your ass on a spit.” He flashed a nicotine-stained smile.
“C’mon,” Pete said, and gave
Nat a yank.
“We ain’t done it yet.”
“Done what?” Mike said. He took
a step toward Peter, who bit his sore lip. “I can beat it out
of you, fucker, it just takes longer. Stop killing my buzz
and tell me what two baby faggots are doing in the woods on
Peter told them. Then, as ordered,
he handed over the Bible. Nat whimpered.
“Woah,” Weezer said. “That’s
“You guys are hardcore!” Steve
Peter relaxed a little. Then
he saw Mike staring through his buzz, dead on Nat.
“You. I know you. What’s
Nat looked up, then back at the
fire. “Nat Parker,” he said, all hushed tones.
It took a moment to register,
then Mike’s mouth dropped open wide enough to shove a loaf
of bread in.
“You’re Lucy Parker’s kid?”
“No way!” Weezer said. “That’s
Miss Lucy’s kid? She has a kid? Really? Man, your Mom’s a friend
What luck! Peter thought.
“Yeah, and she’s a good friend of
Mike’s,” Weezer said.
Peter’s guts went to water as
he listened to them joke about Loose Lucy and all the good
times they’d had with her at Cloverleaf Billiards, a Penthouse
letter written by perverts and read by assholes.
“Shit, the kid’s probably yours,
Mikey!” Weezer said, cackling. Mike, Bible in his hand,
wore a sick grin.
The fire was dying. Peter shivered.
He stole a glance at Nat. He looked like a dead toy. But he
didn’t shake or cry. Just stared at the fire, as if somewhere
in its red heart was an answer to the grief and terror that
echoed from the D-Boys’ laughter.
“Let’s burn it,” Nat said, his
voice cracking as he spoke above the shit and giggles around
Mike looked at the Bible in his
hand, then Nat. “You really want to go to hell, don’t ya?”
Nat nodded. No, Peter thought,
he’s already there.
“Yeah, this’ll be a trip,” Mike
said. “You gotta say anything before we feed it to the fire?
Unga Bunga or Abracadabra?”
“No. But I gotta put on the magic
liquid.” He took out the flask. “Hold it out.”
“He’s Lucy’s kid, alright!” Weezer
Mike shoved Peter out of the
way and presented the Bible to Nat. “Hurry up, kid.
The shrooms are almost peaking.”
“Don’t!” Peter said, and like that Steve
and Weezer clasped his arms, making baby noises.
Nat stood before Mike Sharp,
ready to step into hell. Mike held out the Bible and
Nat began to pour the fluid on to the cover.
“Watch it, retard!” Mike said. “Don’t
waste good hooch.” The liquid covered the drugged teen’s hand
and flannel cuffs.
Then a light snapped to life
from the darkness.
Peter gawked as Nat pulled his
one-handed match trick. His eyes glowed with firelight as he
touched the burning match to the cover.
Yellow flame shot across the Bible,
on to Mike’s hand, and straight up his arm, so fast that everyone
froze in amazement.
Everyone but Nat.
Mike screamed and dropped the Bible,
waving his flaming arm. The Bible landed face up, flames
licking the air. Like a priest with holy water, Nat threw the
liquid in wide arcs, screaming “Go to hell! Go to hell!”, watching
as the liquid burst to living flame across the teen’s burning
All of a sudden, Peter was free.
Weezer and Steve pushed Mike to the ground, snuffing out the
flames. But Peter froze in the heat of the moment.
A hand, black as oil and liquid
in movement, climbed out of the Bible’s flaming cover.
Its talon fingers spread and dove through the two thugs and
went straight for Mike Sharp.
Peter snatched Nat and ran into
the dark woods. Rough branches scratched them to hell, rushing
blind through the trees, tripping and falling, gasping for
air. Peter dragged Nat, light as a ghost, with every unsure
“Better split up,” Peter whispered,
terrified lungs huffing air, legs sprinting for all their worth.
Nat said nothing.
He looked back and couldn’t believe
Nat looked zombified. “It worked.”
Peter let go. “Did, did you see it?” Nat
just looked at him without a care in the world, as if he knew
something Peter didn’t. Through the trees came the horrific
echo of the teens left in the wake of the burning Bible.
“Meet at my place?” Peter said.
“Go,” Nat said. “I’m going to
“I paid for it. I’m going to
watch.” He took off toward the screams.
Peter ran. A cold, dark breeze
bit at his neck.
He got home and grabbed a shower
to wash off the stink of the fire pit. Dressed, he sat at the
kitchen table, waiting for Nat, fearing Nat wouldn’t show up,
scared if he did. He woke to the feel of his dad’s rough hand
shaking his shoulder. It was 6 a.m.
Nat had vanished. Peter got his
dad to call the cops. They said that Nat hadn’t been home all
week, not that his parents seemed to care. And the D-Boys had
gone missing, too.
“They think Nat ran off,” Dad
said. “Any idea where he might be?” Peter shook his head. Runaway
or disappeared somewhere, Peter didn’t know. Either way, his
only friend was gone.
Armed with a shovel and a full
backpack, Peter biked in sunny daylight to Fisher Park. He
found the Bible, its cover a ruined mass of burnt leather
and trash, surrounded by ashes. He buried it, along with the Devil’s
Handbook and his Fleshwound CDs, a few feet from the fire
pit, nearly snapping his wrists on the hard ground.
# # #
Advice from the Devil's
published October 19, 2009