Home > The Initial Insult (The Initial Insult #1)

The Initial Insult (The Initial Insult #1)
Author: Mindy McGinnis

 

Chapter 1


Tress


Out here, something can turn to nothing real fast.

The buildings fade out as you drive from town, paved roads turn to gravel, and then to dirt. Cell phone towers start to disappear, electric lines begin to sag, and soon, you’re nowhere. Grandpa Cecil says that’s a good thing, says the animals like it that way. But the animals he’s talking about are in cages, and I don’t think they like much about life at all.

Most of them were bred in captivity, but those that weren’t—like the panther—they’ve got a different feel about them. Something in the eyes. Something they lost. They watch me and Cecil, waiting for us to make the mistake that will give it back to them. I’m always aware when I’m near the cages, but Cecil’s awareness drifts a little with the drink, and he’s got a bad eye on account of it, damaged and filmed-over gray.

The cat got it, and Cecil swears he wants the other.

The sign out by the road reads “Amontillado Animal Attractions,” but last week somebody spray-painted “White Trash Zoo” over it. I’m scraping away with the end of a screwdriver, tiny curls of red paint falling around my feet, the tips of the poison ivy vine that climbs the sign post brushing against my arms. I’m not worried; I don’t get poison ivy. Cecil says that’s on account of my mom, but she’s gone, so I can’t ask her if she got the rash or not. I push deeper, accidentally digging into the planks and sending a chip flying off into the overgrown ditch, a new scar bright against the old wood.

An autumn sun is burning into my back, giving the last of the summer warmth to my skin as I work. School started two months ago, but it’s still hot down in the valley, and the school board spent their whole last meeting debating with parents over the cost of air-conditioning. That and the flu that’s burning through Prospero, the next town over. It turned into an argument about taxes and the last levy failing, then the school nurse getting shouted down by someone with a WebMD printout. My cousin, Ribbit, told us all about it, said pretty soon the parents were fighting with each other, about what was more important—health or air-conditioning.

Me, I don’t have parents. Just Grandpa Cecil. That’s something of mine that turned to nothing overnight back in fifth grade, my house and my allowance and my toys and clothes all following about a month after. Friends took more time to disappear. But they did.

“Air-conditioning,” Cecil huffed when Ribbit stopped by, his rusted-out truck idling in the driveway because he’s never been quite at ease with the animals.

“Walk outside,” Cecil said. “There’s air.”

Air-conditioning was for pussies, Cecil went on, and he didn’t raise none of them. I didn’t argue against that, since the person he did raise is gone now, and what he does for me can’t exactly be called parenting. More like just making sure I don’t die, and if I do, that it’s not because one of the animals killed me. Then his business would be shot.

“Nice sign,” Ribbit had said when he put the truck in reverse, ready to head back to the Usher house, down the road. I hadn’t noticed it until he pointed it out, our sign being something I looked at every day but never really saw, like Cecil’s milky eye rolling in its socket. The spray paint was new enough to still be shiny but old enough to have soaked in. Days, then. For days people down in town had likely been laughing, and me driving right past it in Cecil’s old truck, coming home from school to feed the animals their bloody, raw-meat dinners, not seeing it. Not seeing the insult, painted in bright red right at my own doorstep.

Cecil had raised his ball cap and scratched his head, honestly stumped. “Who would go and do a thing like that?”

I know. I know exactly who.

It’s got to be someone who doesn’t mind driving the switchback over the ridge in the dark, the turns so tight you pray you don’t meet someone, because these roads weren’t meant for more than one car at a time.

Someone who knew Goldie-Dog, my ancient mutt who I named back before I had much of a vocabulary, and would still follow me to the cages at feeding time, even though I’d be done and headed back to the house by the time she got to the first pen. The gator got Goldie last week, little tufts of gold-white hair floating in her pond as she eyed me, silent in the morning light.

Someone who thinks they’re better than us, someone with—I’m sure—things like air-conditioning and a flu shot and a car with a muffler on it because Cecil and I never heard a damn thing, and the dog never made a peep. Maybe because Goldie was as good as dead already, the deadly V trail of the gator dancing on the surface as she made her move.

Someone who wanted to make sure we know what we are and bothered to drive out of town, past the buildings and the cell towers, past the paved roads and up into the hills, coming back down on the other side out here to our little place. Coming out here to lead Goldie to the water and leave their mark on our doorstep. They left something for nothing and came to take a little bit more from us.

I can see it. I can hear it. I can smell it. She’s in her shiny blue car, music blaring until they’re close to the house, windows open to air out the sickly sweet smell of weed. She probably shushed the others—the new friends she brought along to torment an old one—probably closed her car door real quiet and slipped Goldie-Dog a treat when she came to greet her, still familiar with her scent after all these years. A kind one. A comforting one. A scent she would’ve trusted, right up until the gator’s jaws snapped down on her spine.

I imagine my old friend even did the sign herself, maybe worrying a bit when the spray can was louder than she thought it would be or shaking her hand when her finger got stiff from pushing down. She was smart enough to take the cans with her, and I bet she even threw them in the dumpster behind the gas station on the way back home after dropping off her friends, probably screwing Hugh Broward in the back seat before she went on home.

I’ve borne it all with patience, the years of small cuts that heal over, my heart a pulpy mass of scars. But it was still beating, at least I could say that, right up until she took Goldie from me. Now it’s a dead thing, still in my chest. And if I can’t feel the good things anymore, then doing a few bad ones shouldn’t hurt a bit.

And they are long overdue.

I dig viciously at the last bit of paint, and my screwdriver slips, flying out from under my fingers and sending my hand into a hard scrape against the wood. The pain is sharp and bright, and a shock pulses to the tips of my fingers. There’s a splinter in my palm, running from the top of my wrist up into my fate line, close enough to the surface of the skin that I can see the grain in the wood, but deep enough that it’s going to hurt like a bitch coming out. I grip it with my teeth and pull, the sun baking my back and a trickle of blood snaking down my arm as I do. In his cage, the panther huffs, tail twitching, suddenly bright-eyed. He can smell it.

I spit the splinter into the ditch, where it pings off one of Cecil’s beer bottles.

I’m not like Cecil, wondering who would go and do a thing like that.

I know who.

It was Felicity Turnado.

 

 

Chapter 2


Felicity


I’m being carried again, but this time at least I know by who.

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