Home > The Scapegracers

The Scapegracers
Author: Hannah Abigail Clarke

ONE

 

 

BY THE PRICKING OF MY THUMBS


The punch was the color of my first and second knuckles and it tasted like lye. It singed off the surface of my tongue. Between sips, if I angled my wrist just right, I could make my reflection glint off the surface, and warped little me could stare up from the depths of my Solo cup like an overgrown jackdaw. Which, like. Yikes. I made myself look literally anywhere else and ground on a last bit of chalk.

My sigil was enormous, six feet wide, maybe more. I’d drawn the lines on bold and thick, but it was anything but elegant. It looked like an astrolabe that’d been hit by a truck. White lines spiraled, switchbacked, zigzagged back and forth in a cacophonous mess, and all the jaggedy lines only just managed to squeeze themselves inside my gigantic hand-drawn circle. The chalk looked rough against the concrete floor, weathered like a three-day-old game of hopscotch. I could’ve done better, but this was my second cup of jungle juice. So.

Parties are too fucking loud. Like, I understand the bass is heavy and we’re drunk and whatever, but that doesn’t make shrieked lyrics of nasty bubblegum bop any easier on my ears. I pulled my knees to my chest and toyed with the frets in the denim. Soon enough, the unholy trinity would meander over here, and we could start things. My throat itched from the lack of starting things. I soothed the itch with more booze and fought back the urge to retch.

This was the first weekend in October, and the township of Sycamore Gorge doesn’t fuck around where Halloween is concerned. This was the dawn of scare-party season. First weekend was pre-costumes but well within the realm of the macabre, and house parties had to thematically follow suit to garner any interest whatsoever. Three years back, a little ridiculousness with a Ouija board and some rounds of Bloody Mary might’ve sufficed, but that sort of thing reeked of amateur hour now. Jing and Yates and Daisy were the longest-standing monarchs our school had ever seen, and I couldn’t fathom them tarnishing their reputations with a mind-numbing three hours of sitting around in silence, shoving a flimsy plastic planchette back and forth in hopes that Elvis might shimmy in from beyond the veil and tell them what was up. They needed something real to stay relevant, something genuine. Something that couldn’t be purchased at Party City for under twenty bucks.

Jing and Yates and Daisy are a whole lot of things, but they aren’t stupid.

They’d paid me forty.

Fog machines frosted the crowd in a milky, dreamy haze, and bodies twisted together under the strobe lights like a great meaty knot. Torsos flickered and drifted, denim-clad pelvises clattered together, and countless long, glow-stick-spangled arms waved red cups like beacons through the fog. Worn sneakers scuffed the ground. The partygoers all looked a little smudged, a little sickly, like they were either going to keel over or float away any second, and when I let my eyes fall out of focus, the whole bopping crowd blurred together into one churning mass, like a monster’s four-chambered heart. To my right, a straight couple I didn’t recognize dipped their tongues down each other’s throats. To my left, a leggy girl tossed her head back, neck impossibly long like a goose, falsies fluttering up over the whites of her eyes like she had a Hollywood devil inside her. A dudebro slopped punch on her Vans.

Daisy Brink came out of the darkness. She was dressed something like a pleated Creamsicle, and her lip gloss looked so sticky under the seizing LEDs that I nearly forgot for a second why I shouldn’t tangle with girls like her, no matter how tempting the prospect might be. Daisy dropped, sat crisscross, and gnawed on her poison-colored Ring Pop. It stained her incisors blue. She lowered the Ring Pop, waggled her brows, and toyed with the glow-stick choker around her throat. I made myself stare intently at the chalk. Right. No. There’d be no straight girls for me.

Yates and Jing emerged from the same gap of darkness as Daisy and took spots beside her, marking the third and fourth points on the circle. Yates had black-eyed Susans tucked in the curls of her afro and Jing wore an oversized hoodie and not much else. They both had a glossy sheen of boredom around them, heavy eyed and languid. Jing rolled her shoulders and slid her hands out of her pockets, eased her glow-bracelet-bangled wrists to the ground, and traced her bitten-down nails over the chalk lines. “So. Sideways. When do we start this thing?”

I skimmed my tongue over my teeth. I’d drawn out a five-pointed sigil. Hard to tell, because it wasn’t exactly Ye Olde Average Pentagram, but it was still five pointed in an abstract sense. You know, for tradition’s sake, or whatever.

There were four of us.

I cleared my throat. “Yeah, so. We need a fifth person for the fifth point. Doesn’t matter who.”

“Couldn’t you have made a four-person spell?” Jing pulled a face and jerked one of her slash-straight eyebrows up into her hairline. “Whatever.” She smacked her lips. Her gaze whipped over my head and her pupils fixed on some lucky sucker behind me. She stabbed one of her fingers at whoever stood behind me, and her mouth curled up at the edges. “Hey. You. You like magic?”

I jerked myself around, craned my neck. My heart hurled itself against my rib cage and stuck there.

She must be new or something. I didn’t know her.

She was lanky, probably taller than me. Long and narrow. There were Band-Aids on her shins. She wore high-waisted shorts and a satiny basketball jacket. The fitted cap she wore cast shadows under her brows, and on top of that cap was a woven glow-stick halo. It shimmered down on her shoulders with a ghostly violet glow. Her hair was velvety black, so black it glinted blueish under the LEDs, and it hung in two raggedy fishtails that swayed around her waist when she moved. They swung back a little when she rocked on her heels, which she did presently, jabbing an inquisitive finger at her chest. Me? She snapped her bubblegum between her teeth and gave us a slow nod. “I sure do.”

“What’s your name?” Jing leaned back, shook her hair out with one hand, and loosened up the other into a lazy come-hither motion. “You should hang with us. This here is Sideways Pike. She’s a real bona fide witch, and she’s gonna show us something special.”

“Dope,” said the stranger. “I’m Madeline.”

“Well then, Madeline.” Jing waved her hand over the blank space on the floor beside her. “Take a seat.”

I was on the other side of that blank space. Jing, me, blank space. Madeline would be sitting next to me. Fuck.

Madeline sat down and sprawled back, pulled one of her thighs toward her chest. She hugged her arms around it and rested her chin on her knee. “So. We’re playing witchcraft?” Her voice was slow, a little raw, and she looked at my seedy sigil like it was a stained-glass window. Something glinted deep in her sockets, but it was gone before I could place it. She sniffed, knotted her eyebrows. “I could fuck with that.”

I opened my jaws and felt myself almost say something awful and significantly gayer than I intended, but I drowned the words before they could slither out. The last of my punch scorched my esophagus and burned off the lining of my stomach. Very gross, very fruit-punch-y. Reality fell a little out of focus. My limbs felt vaguely numb. I licked the grime off my teeth and crunched the Solo cup in my fist, thrust it aside, shook out my wrists and my fingers. Gooseflesh bloomed down the length of my spine.

I felt it now. The world was starting to prickle. Slowly, steadily, the air started to fizzle, and the radio-static air vibrated louder and louder until every follicle on my head stood on end. The feeling seeped from my pores inward, thrummed into my capillaries, my spider veins, the very meat of me, and the feeling went pitter-pat, itched for a strike or a spark. My eyes swiveled up in my skull and my vision swam. I couldn’t see anything but the milky fog and strobe lights crashing above us. The air was pale, bruise-lavender blue. It pulsed like it was alive, and I couldn’t see the ceiling above it. I clawed at either side of me, felt around for hands and found them with a lurch. On my left, that was Madeline. Her fingers were dead cold and calloused, and she took me by my wrist and held me tight. Jing grabbed my right hand. She gave me a little squeeze.

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