Kinsbury Parish Sacrificial – Gregory Yelnish
April 10, 2020
We watched until she couldn’t walk anymore. She fell, asking to no one for help. Then crying out for it. We just watched. We were bored, that’s all. She kept calling out and we kept watching. Barnet threw clumps of dirt at her head. A few landed, and her cries got louder. Barnet, then a couple others chuckled. Aside from that we didn’t laugh. Just watched and watched until Jack rose from his squat and walked over slow and kicked her down the hill. Then we watched her roll into the lake without even a splash and after a bit of struggle disappear.
“Suppose you got a place to run to?” Jernice said.
“Suppose I do,” I replied.
“He ain’t got nowhere to go,” Barnet said.
“Suppose I do.”
“It don’t matter none to me. Either you do or don’t. I know I do. Barnet does, Grey, and Po’ Jack said they does. I’ono ‘bout Jack.”
The fire was warm. The shed barely held us six, walls on all sides crawling alive with mold and spores. Fungal. I heard my pa say that word, I think it fits.
“Why the hell I’m ‘Po’ Jack’? I never did get that.” Po’ Jack said.
“Shut up,” Jack said.
“Nah, man, forreal. I ain’t even po’ compared to y’all. We ‘bout the same in terms of cash way I see it. Shit, we all steal. What’s up wit’ that?
“You’re ‘Po’ Jack’ ‘cause Jack is Jack,” Jernice said.
“That don’t make no sense man,” Po’ Jack said.
“He is older,” Grey spoke softly.
“Yeah, there you go. I’m older so I’m Jack. Asshole.”
“We both seventeen, man. You ‘bout a month older.”
“Older is older,” Barnet said, “I’m sixteen and three months and five days. If you was sixteen and three months and four I’d still be senior.”
The lady drowned, I think. We didn’t stay to see. Asphyxiation, I heard my pa say it. That’s when you lose all breath in your chest. That’s what happened to her. Grey said he saw it on the news a couple nights later. Grey always watches the news, God bless him, cause the rest of us can’t be bothered. Or can’t understand. She was old, real old, shambling along. Guess she couldn’t swim. Not like we meant it. The drowning. It was harmless like messing. Like we done plenty before to plenty people. Bored. Having to swim shouldn’t kill a lady. The fire was too hot. I was sweating bad.
“You kicked the walker out,” Jernice said.
“No I fuckin’ didn’t,” Po’ Jack said.
“The news said there were witnesses. They have suspects,” Grey was pale.
“I seen you do it,” Jernice said.
“She fell, man. It was Jack kicked her down the hill in the lake. And why Barn threw the fuckin’ mud at her like that? Un-Un…”
“Unnecessary.” I had heard my father say it.
“I was gonna say uncalled fo’ but yeah, that too,” Po’ Jack said.
“You kicked the walker out from her,” Jack said.
“I…think you did PJ. The news said she had bruising on her arms and hands, like she tried to stop herself from a sudden fall. That’s what they said,” Grey muttered.
“To hell wit the news, man! My old man say the news don’t know shit. Anyways, we was drunk. You was the one stole the drink from you pops,” Po’ Jack was pointing at Jernice.
“Barn shouldn’ta thrown that mud,” Jernice said.
“Don’t change the subject, Jern. You are the one supplied the drink. I barely remember bein’ able ta see,” Barnet said.
“Wadn’t even strong drink. Wadn’t barely drink at all. Way watered down. Y’alls fathers never taught y’all to handle liquor?” Jernice said.
Jack threw more trash and poured a bit of lighter fluid on the fire. It roared green-orange, for a minute I thought the shed would go up with it. Or I wished it would and take us too. The mold on the walls danced in the heat. We were all sweating, not from the flames alone. I thought of where I could run to if I had to run. How I could say goodbye to my family if I had to say goodbye. Sometimes that happens. When the end of the world comes sometimes the world ends and you just run even when you ain’t got a place to run to. You make one, or force yourself find one.
“Parl, Earth ta Parl,” I heard Po’ Jack say.
“What?” I replied.
“I asked what you think we shoul’do,” he said.
“We might have to run,” I said.
“Well, ain’t that a grand re-rec- “
“Recommendation,” I said.
“Yeah. That. Now you gots any real plans?”
“He ain’t been the same since, he don’t know right from left,” Jack said.
“He just witnessed a murder,” Grey murmured.
“Hey! You shut the hell up, bastard. Ain’t no murder. No one was murdered,” Jack snapped.
“Maybe the news got it wrong,” I said, “Maybe she ain’t dead.”
“We seen her go beneath the water. Why the hell you kicked her down the hill like that?” Barnet asked.
“Jern the one got us drunk. I ain’t know what I was doin’. Why the hell you throw mud at the poor bitch’s face?” Jack was reddening.
“Throwin’ mud ain’t the same as killin’,” Barnet replied.
“I ain’t kill nobody. Why the hell PJ kick her walker out?”
“I ain’t kick a damn walker fo’ the last time,” Po’ Jack said.
“We all seen you do it PJ,” Jack said.
“You shuttin’ the hell up now Jack, I’on care how much older you is.”
“You kicked it, she prolly broke her damn arms then, like Grey heard. Couldn’t swim no more. Then Barnet blinded her with the damn mud. You wanna talk ‘bout killin’? You two killed her!”
At that the two jumped up and Jack responded, going rigid and more red. They were motionless for a while with clenched fists. The flames flickered. Po’ Jack and Barnet lunged at Jack. Their shouting drowning out the attempts of Jernice to calm them down. I wasn’t sure if I was hollering too. Grey was making sounds like a housewife wincing at the fist that beats her nightly. A few times I thought the three would fall in the fire, the rest of us moving circle wise as they thrashed about the shed. Pandemonium, I heard my pa say. It’s when everything goes wild. When chaos reigns. The mold on the walls looked like it was clapping as the show went on. Po’ Jack and Barnet landed some blows, but Jack was bigger and stronger, holding them back mostly easily. Tossing them like ragdolls. In his eyes the fire shone amplified tenfold. It seemed he was enjoying it. Then the two other boys accepted defeat and sat back down, panting. Jack stayed standing. The fire was on his tongue and in his eyes and looked like licking through his whole body.
“Y’all stay sittin’ the hell down now. Know y’alls place,” Jack said.
“This ain’t helpin’ no how. Can we jess think please?” Jernice said.
“Know y’alls place,” Jack repeated.
“Yeah, yeah. We get it. Ar-Ar-“
“Arrogant?” I suggested.
“Yeah. Arow-gant asshol’,” Po’ Jack said.
“You all aren’t listening. The news said there were witnesses. That the cops had suspects,” Grey said.
“To hell wit the news,” Po’ Jack said.
“You might think that, but I think it’s important,” Grey replied.
“It is,” Jernice said.
“If they got witnesses we gotta run,” I said.
“Duh that’s right,” Po’ Jack was wiping sweat.
Jernice settled back on his makeshift chair. “Befo’ we runnin’ we everybody needin’ a tight plan.”
“We need alibis,” I said.
“Aleh-byes?” Po’ Jack asked. Barnet’s eyes gleamed, “I ain’t never heard of that.”
“Stories,” Grey said, “ones you tell the cops. So they think you were somewhere else at some other time.”
“How you knew that?” Jernice asked me.
“Pa and me were watching a crime show once. He told me ‘bout it. I guess Grey got it from the news.”
“What good is makin’ stories if they ain’t catch us to tell ‘em? Waste a time,” Barnet said.
“Agree, why we gotta come up ways ta talk? We gotta use us legs not mouth,” Po’ Jack reasoned.
“Every criminal has alibis, every single one,” Grey said.
“Well if it’s on the news them criminals musta been caught, and then them aleh-byes musta been no good anyhow,” Po’ Jack slapped his thighs. “Good legs’a served ‘em better.”
“Hell, I ain’t findin’ no good argument to that,” Jernice said.
“You gotta have a story, just in case. Your legs might give out,” I said.
“Hell, how many times we ran like we was racin’ Olympic like? We got legs like horses,” Jernice said.
“You aren’t thinking through this,” Grey quietly from across the fire.
“To hell wit’ you stories, I got legs, good ones, I’m usin’ ‘em like they meant ta be used,” Po’ Jack said.
Jack threw a cup of gas on the fire. It plumed green and orange like a mating peacock. “No you ain’t.”
For a minute there was silence as we realized Jack hadn’t spoken all this time. What an awful thing, silence in the middle of panic. The impact of it a driving stake. The six of us planning as best we could brought to a halt like a sudden upon us with a burst of gas on a trash fire and then the plans are forgotten. Lying there dead, like the woman in the morgue now probably, we didn’t mean for that, her in the morgue now and stiffness on her like the burst of flame was on us, and Jack’s words on us, stopping us lifeless. Jack looked around the room. He dropped his gaze to the fire. Silence in the panic. After a while Jernice picked our plans out of the dust where they were lying and shook us back into the shed and reality.
“Jack, you ain’t mean to kill her,” he was motionless, “we ain’t mean to hurt her but a little. We was messin’ like we do. But hell, it happened. Now we gotta do somethin’.”
“You shouldn’ta never rolled her off that hill. It don’t matter none now,” Po’ Jack said.
“I think we should run. It’s obvious we should run,” Grey said.
“We ain’t runnin’ nowhere. My family been in Kinsbury Parish goin’ on a hundred somethin’ years. And y’all ain’t abandonin’ me. I ain’t mean to. I ain’t. Ain’t no one runnin’,” Jack said.
We all looked at him. He was still standing rigid like when Barnet and Po’ Jack had jumped at him. He wasn’t sweating like the rest of us. He stared at the fire as he spoke, staring so hard that it licked into his pupils and down his neck finding the oxygen in his heart. His right hand was flexing open and closed, his left was in his pocket fiddling with something. Turning it over and over so that we could see the outline of it but couldn’t make out what exactly it was.
Po’ Jack was wiping sweat. “Shit, man, if the cops comin’ we gotta get outta town.”
“Yeah, I don’t care none for you family history right now,” Jernice said.
“The smart thing would be to leave. You can make a new legacy or family or whatever in a new parish,” Grey added as softly as he could.
“Relax, Jack. Ain’t none us meant it to get to that. Runnin’ better than goin’ to jail for life,” Barnet said.
“We gotta in-in-a-“
“In-a-vate, that’s right. I learnt it in Ms. Limley’s class. Come up wit’ somethin’ new, new plans.”
“Innovation is needed now more than ever,” Grey whispered.
“That’s how we always do,” Jernice said, “c’mon. We all know we can come up wit’ somethin’. Ain’t nothin’ we can’t think outta.”
Jack stayed perfectly still. He moved his eyes from the fire and laid them on me, looking into mine, looking like he was searching for my answer to a question he hadn’t asked. Or maybe the glint in them was begging. For me to say something he needed to hear. Jack, we can’t just stay and burn. Don’t you know that? Too late for it. He and me knew even if the others didn’t. He was the fire. It wasn’t licking through him anymore. The heat transferred and coming from him, rolling wisps of dull smoke, ash falling off his skin. He fiddled with the object in his left pocket a little more until finally removing it. A switch blade, its handle black as a starless sky. Our eyes went wide. Jernice and Grey scooted back on their makeshift seats, Barnet and Po’ Jack furrowed their brows and tightened their lips. He never took his eyes off mine. I had never noticed the shade of brown they were, appearing like kindling, dry, flecks of orange now as they went up in a blaze. He hit the button on the hilt and a stainless-steel blade ejected shining as if it too was burning. Escalation, my pa would say. It’s when things have gotten to a point where there’s no turning back.
“No one is runnin’ I said.”
“Is you serious, man? Put that damn thing the hell away!” Po’ Jack attempting firmness but faltering.
“Jack, the hell is wrong wit’ you? We losin’ the thread. We gotta stay on a plan, like we always do,” Jernice said.
“The plan is we ain’t runnin’. We stay and protect our own,” Jack said.
“Protect? From the cops, man? What the hell you even sayin’?!” Po’ Jack asked.
“Shut the hell up PJ,” Jack replied.
“Look, Jack. I know family important and all. Kinsbury important and all. But it’s jess a parish. It ain’t all you is,” Jernice said.
“I shouldn’ta thrown the mud…I shoudln’ta thrown the mud,” Barnet repeated to himself.
“It is who I is. It’s who you is too. It’s who Po’ Jack is, who Grey is, Parl, Barn. Ain’t just a place. It’s a home. Land everythin’ thing to a man. Y’all pops never told y’all that?”
“Land? We ain’t none us got no land! Ain’t no one in this parish got no land ‘cept the ones wit’ cash, man. That ain’t us,” Po’ Jack said.
It looked like smoke came from Jack’s nostrils. “It’s ‘bout bein’ on the land.”
“Ta hell wit’ you land! I can be on any land an’ be Jackson Bridges still!”
“You can’t,” Jack said.
“Ta hell wit’ you land, Jack. Ta hell with you. Ta hell wit all this and the ol’ woman an’ all of it. I’m leavin’,” Po’ Jack stood and walked toward the shed door. Jack moved for the first time in what seemed like ages.
“Don’t touch that handle PJ,” he said.
“Ta hell wit’ you!”
“Sittown PJ, jess sittown,” Jernice said.
“Ta hell wit’ you! I’m takin’ myseff gone. It’s yall’s f-fun-funeral!”
Grey had backed himself all the way into a corner. The rest of us were stuck like in mud waist high. Po’ Jack. Jackson Bridges. I wasn’t sure if I had ever heard his real name before. It rolled over in my head like waves in and out with the tide. A name, a full name, laid out there before the world. The name he wrote on his schoolwork stamped on official papers and all. Cleansed of brandishing clean of the lesser than in proud defiance. Jackson. He turned his back on us and reached for what passed as the shed door. Before he could open it even an inch, Jack was leaping across the fire, at his back. The only thing we heard was Po’ Jack yell. Then he yelled again as Jack’s arm went back and forth into his side. The crackling of the flames. Po’ Jack lie on the ground in a pool of blood, four holes in his side. Except it wasn’t Po’ Jack anymore. Po’ Jack had gone on to somewhere else, wherever it was he was destined to go. It was just an empty husk there. It wasn’t Jackson Bridges. It wasn’t anything. Over the sounds of the fire I could hear Grey whimpering in the corner. The room smelled like blood and piss and lighter fluid and sweat. Jackson Bridges. The name washed around my head and flooded over the wrinkles of my brain.
“What you did that for man? Oh, God. Why the hell you do that?” Barnet said.
“Jack? The fuck’s happenin’ ta you, Jack?” Jernice said.
“The news is going to hear about this. The news said there were witnesses and suspects,” Grey stammered.
Jack didn’t say a word. He walked back to his position where he sat unmoving and reclaimed it. He wiped the blood from his knife on his jeans. Po’ Jack’s blood. I kept my eyes on him the whole way and now he looked at me again straight, still, fuming. Then his mouth smiled with the fire still hot inside of it, permanent residence now and forever.
“An’ that’s why he Po’ Jack,” he said laughing.
None of us laughed along. Silence like the burst on us before but worse even. Much worse. Plans and the woman and Jackson Bridges growing stiff on the floor. Everyone keeping their gaze on the mold or the fire or the body the rapidly growing pool of blood but me. Locked on to him. Land to fight for, his father had told him. But what kind of fight is this? For what kind of land? I couldn’t understand it. We were nothing to this ground. The grass blew in the wind the water swirled leaves rustled without a second look. It was uncaring and unkind to us all our lives and all our parent’s lives. You kill for it. Does it care now? Are you expecting congratulations, Jack? Or is it your long dead kin, those bones buried deep under Kinsbury soil, supposed to lap up the blood and grin? If it’s all you have. Its pride. It’s the scorching pride. It makes you wrong if you don’t treat it right. If you don’t think right about it. If you kill a lady on it and that clouds you or maybe you were always clouded. Delusions of grandeur, pa had said once. It’s when you believe yourself to be greater than you are, or believe a cause to be greater than it is, or a place more meaningful. Maybe it fits here. Maybe the inferno’s right. Throwing it all away in desperation. Then desperation’s just a kinda twisting road to glory. This can’t be glory. Was it ever? It’s impossible to think now.
“The news said so,” Grey said.
“Oh, God. Screw the damn news. Look you did, Jack. Why? Why?” Barnet was holding Po’ Jack’s head to his chest, getting blood on his white shirt and jeans.
“I tol’ you why. You ain’t gotta ask,” Jack replied.
Jernice was squeezing his eyes shut. “Hell. Now what? Now what?”
“Now what? What you mean? There ain’t a ‘now what’ no more Jern. Look what he did,” Barnet said.
“I do the same ta you keep talkin’ like that, Barn.” Barnet shut up. He rested his head on Po’ Jack’s.
“Now what?” Jernice repeated.
“Now we wait ‘til it blow over. Hide PJ. Go home an’ that’s that,” Jack said.
“Witnesses and suspects,” Grey still shaking in the corner.
“That’s that? Hell you mean? Ain’t that easy,” Jernice said.
“Sho is. Less you wanna go the Po’ Jack option.”
“Parl?” Jernice asked.
“What you think?” he said.
“I guess lay low. I ain’t so sure. I can’t think.”
“Now there’s’a smart one. We stayin’ put,” Jack said. “Say, remember that lil theft we pulled a year two back? Almost fudged it?”
“Yeah,” Jernice said.
“What it was again?”
“What we hit?”
“Register, a few bottles, rough up the cashier,” Jernice said.
“Was fun, huh? You agree Barn?”
“Hell wit’ you,” Barn through tears.
“Remember we wadn’t sure we was gonna skate it? Who we lissen to?” Jack said.
“Suspects,” Grey whimpered.
“I said who we lissen to?”
“You,” Jernice said.
“Mhm. Me. Ain’t it right Barn?”
“Hell wit’ you, Jack. It right but hell wit’ you,” Barn replied. Jack laughed.
“Right. All over a ol’ lady,” he said, shaking his head. “How stupid can we git?”
“We jess sit here? Ain’t no plan like usual,” Jernice said.
“Ain’t no arguin’ neither. Less you wanna go on an’ meet Po’ Jack course.”
As if on cue, as if the Heavens heard him, no, Jackson Bridges had heard him from wherever he had gone and he had tempted fate for the last time, the sound of sirens. You shoulda used them legs we gots an’ ran, he would’ve said. The representatives of Kinsbury’s care sat separated from us by a flimsy wooden wall. Dancing alive with mold laughing. Tell them about our kin, those hundreds and something years. They’ll understand. I almost laughed too. Sick to myself more cause of that than the cops. Jack tensed. His hand went white knuckled around his knife. Barn, me, Grey and Jernice moved as far from the door as we could, almost pressed against the living back wall.
“I told you they had suspects. I told you over and over,” Grey said.
“Shut the hell up,” Jack snapped.
“Kinsbury Parish Police Department,” the voice buzzed over the speaker system, “come out with your hands up. Do not attempt to run. Drop any and all weapons you have on you and come out now.”
Jack made a sound like a chuckle raked over coals. “Well, I said so. No runnin’.”
“Hell, man. Now what? Now what?” Jernice said.
“I repeat, come out now with your hands up. Do not attempt to run. Come out now or we will open fire.”
“They can see the blood. It’s runnin’ out the door,” I said.
“Hell. Now what?”
“Pops tol’ me ta fight. You ready Barn?” Jack asked.
Before anyone could get what it was he meant, Jack had a hand full of Barnet’s shaggy red hair with his knife at his throat. We dove to the ground as he made his way to the door. I’ll tell myself I reached out to stop him. Maybe we did try to beg him to stop. Barn was shrieking, the man on the police speaker was making demands. Jack stepped over Po’ Jack’s body, took a breath, and kicked the door open. The moonlight turned him into a pale fire. Glory to go bursting one last time into flames. He began to scream at the police as they screamed back and Barnet screamed in the middle. I could make out none of it. Still holding Barnet close he charged knife in the air. The bright flashes and deafening bangs of the guns forced us to shut our eyes and cover our ears. In a few moments it was over. When I looked up, Grey and Jernice remained huddled into balls covering their senses, crying. Barnet was stomach up on the grass, pallid and growing more ghostly by the second. Jack was smoldering embers. Cops checked their bodies and removed the knife, then draped some sort of cover over them both. It was silent, silent, and still surely like the woman at the morgue. Like Jackson and now like Jack and Barnet. We hadn’t meant it, and now Kinsbury Parish had assumed its rightful role, one time-honored. A funeral pyre atop the callous mud. As the cops handcuffed us three that remained, I thought about a word that my pa had taught me. Immolation.