Song: “Possum Kingdom” by The Toadies
She had known she should say no the moment he asked her. She knew her parents would not allow it. They’d say she was too young to be traipsing around with a boy at that time of night. It was not a safe choice.
She had known she should say no the moment he asked her. She knew that if she did not ask her parents, there could be dozens of kinds of trouble to pay. If she was found out. If either of them got hurt. If someone else saw them. If they got lost…it was not a safe choice.
She had known she should say no the moment he asked her. But she didn’t. She said yes. With a giggle. She told him she’d sneak out, blushing with pride at her bold, rebellious decision. This was not the way she usually acted. But it was summer, she reasoned. It was summer and she was 16 and if she did not start being her own person now, then when. Besides, he was terribly cute and mysterious, the exact kind of boy she couldn’t find in her hometown. The exact kind of boy she’d always wanted but was scared to find.
Thus, when night fell and she heard her parents stray to the far side of the house and close their door in the rented cabin, she slipped it out. It had taken oh so long to get as dark as she wanted and her parents had taken oh so long to stop watching TV and retire and so she buzzed with nervous pent up energy. It was born of coiled anticipation and a stubborn resistance to the sleep her body so desperately wanted. She was jumpy and giddy and her clipped along like a rock skipping across the lake.
It was dark. So much darker than she expected. The one other time she had snuck out it was at a sleepover at friend’s. The three of them slipped out the front door and rode bike around the neighborhood at one in the morning. It was never as dark then as it was crossing the meadow to the old boathouse. Street lights were everywhere back home. All she had now were her eyes that resisted adjusting the light and an electric lantern she had pilfered from the garage and hid under her bed in the afternoon while her parents were busy playing croquet with some set of boring neighbors.
She felt cold suddenly. Terribly cold. It made no sense, she knew. It was still hot out, 90 easy. And humid. She felt her cotton dress settling on her like a wet towel. And yet, her teeth chattered. Adrenaline she told herself. Excitement.
She finally found him, just a little ways back from the boathouse, sitting on a rock. He had no flashlight, no lantern. She found it odd but he assured her as a townie, he knew this place backwards and forwards. She smiled at that and he smiled and they both swayed awkwardly, standing two feet apart. A moment became seconds became a minute, maybe more. Finally, she could stand it no more. She had to scream or kiss him and she opted for the kiss.
It was…overpowering. She felt dizzy, like she was falling into a deep pit. She’d kissed others, certainly. A boyfriend, a friend’s cousin, a couple of classmates during a spin the bottle party. But this was different. It scared her. And it thrilled her. She found her want to kiss him growing with each moment, never slaked.
He stopped her though, gently but firmly grabbing her arms, pinning to her side, and moving her away from him. He wanted to show her something, he whispered. She felt ill at ease right away. The sick feeling she had gotten she fell off the jungle him in third grade and lost her breathe, but not just in her stomach. Every part of her felt like that. But she said ok.
He reached into a stump next to the rock he had been sitting on and pulled out an ornate wooden box. She nearly giggled at herself for her feeling of dark premonition. It probably just belonged to his departed mom, she thought. So silly of her to get so scared.
Then he opened it.
She felt the world disappear from underneath her. The air seemed to grow slick, like oil. It was…hideous. Noxious. Terrifying.
She tried to close her eyes and he urged her not to. She tried to look away and he demanded she stare. She was rooted in place, without agency to do anything but take in his secret. She bit her lip but could feel no pain, taste no blood. It was vast, twisting…and his voice. He seemed to almost coo at her to look, look at what he brought. And she did. And she did. Until she could no more and her brain, blessedly, made her sleep.
Her parents found her the next morning on the front porch of the cabin looking exhausted, sweaty, and distant. She told them she could not sleep, that the heat had kept her up. And from what they saw that made sense. They did not question it and by midday and following a shower and a trip to an air conditioned mall, she seemed chipper, bright…herself.
Or so they reassured themselves. In truth, although they never said it to each other or anyone else, their daughter seemed different. Off. They’d catch her sometimes staring at something in a way that was decidedly unusual. She seemed to carry herself differently, talk in a voice just a touch unlike her own. Perhaps it was puberty last gifts, perhaps…well, they did not bother to wonder beyond that. They did not wish to.
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