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Vol. 3, No. 1

Scaring the Baddest Animal
by Chris Spain

A boom box booms, giving the air a heartbeat. Piggy feeling like he's in the middle of a four-way intersection, and something big is coming, only he's not sure which direction it's coming from.
    "Do or die," Tigre finally says, as if he's found an answer.
    Sometimes just Tigre's voice spills the air out of Piggy like that.
    "What?" asks Tuna.
    "Stand on the tracks, see who stay the longest," says Angel.
    "That's played, that's tired," says Pluto.
    "Grab the third rail, do a Sparky just to put me out of my misery," Pluto says.
    "What's a Sparky?" asks Tuna.
    "He's dead, he's cooked."
    "Not on the tracks," Tigre says.
    "Not on the tracks?"
    Piggy, not yet sure why, not breathing.
    "It's who gets in the cage," says Tigre. "That's the man."
    "What cage?"
    "The zoo cage. Like Piggy said, we're the gladiators. We find the baddest animal, see who badder. Who get their props."
    "You're crazy."
    "Snakes. Snakes the baddest," says Angel.
    "Fuck snakes, I ain't getting nowhere near no snakes."
    "Snakes don't count," says Tigre. "They lock them up."
    "Cheetah bad. One hundred kilometers an hour."
    "Book, how much miles is that?"
    "Like it's not dangerous enough already?" says Tuna. "Like we might not get shot for breathing?"

 

~

Piggy dangles on the zoo wall, his drumming heart drowning out a river of cars on the avenue. The bricks radiate heat like something alive. Everybody else already gone from the air around him, everybody else already kicked over. Piggy the only one who knows the way at night. He can still turn them back.
    "Stupid dark."
    "Mad cool."
    "Book," says Tigre. "Throw yourself, I'll catch you."
    The air blurs on Piggy's fingertips. To a bump and a big Tigre laugh. Piggy sitting right on top of him.
    "What happened, what?"
    "Where's Piggy at?"
    "Tigre finally been knocked on his ass," says Tigre. "By a blind man."
    "Okay," Tigre says. "We're even."
    Tigre laughs buzzing up Piggy's legs and thighs.

 

~

The air hangs on them like wet towels, and there is a dripping, as if someone wrings out the ends. Just their footsteps. Just their breathing. And the dripping night. Piggy runs his fingers over exhibit markers, tells them what they're not seeing. They are at the elephants. They have to go past Asia and World of Darkness and Jungle World. It's behind that.
    "What's up if they catch us?"
    "Nothing, like a parking ticket."
    "If the crocodile don't eat you."
    "What crocodile?"
    "The one they let out to guard at night."
    "You shitting me, right?"
    "How else you think they don't get everything stole?"
    "If there's crocodiles, I'm not going."
    "Tuna, there's no fucking crocodiles."
    

 

~

Raspy breathing from across wrought iron and dead water. As if someone files down a piece of metal on the dark. And still that steady dripping; drip, drip, the night is bleeding.
    "Hear him," says Tigre.
    "Hey, puss, puss."
    "Something is stank. Something stank bad."
    "Hobbes got bad breath is what he got."
    "Hey, brush your teeth mister fucking tiger."
    "Shhh, don't make him mad."
    Piggy takes his helmet off. The flick and flaring of Pluto's lighter. Listening to them see.
    "His ass is kicked is what. Just like ours. Too fucking hot to get up."
    "Put that shit out."
    The light leaving. Just Hobbes's breathing. And their own breathing. And the leaking light.
    "Got to swim," says Pluto. "Only way to get across."
    "I ain't getting in that shit. That shit probably kill you."
    "Otherwise you go, right, Tuna?"
    A spill of bootlace. The drag of shirt cloth off shoulder skin. Tigre's zipper run down tooth by tooth.
    "Hold this," says Tigre.
    The warmth of Tigre in the shirt and jeans. The smell of Tigre. As if Piggy is holding part of him.
    "Tigre?" says Piggy. "You're not really."
    "Loco," says Pluto. "Fucking nuts."
    A pop of ligament and muscle. Air spilling from Tigre's mouth. The soft drop to the other side.
    "Tigre?"
    "Can you see him?"
    "Don't talk, don't say nothing," says Tigre.
    "You want light?"
    "No light."
    A splash, like a rock in a puddle. Then a second dripping, a dripping behind the dripping that was already there.
    "Yo, he's really doing it, he is. Yo, shit."
    "That Hobbes better of ate already."
    Piggy lifts the jeans and shirt to his face. The heat already gone. As fast as that. He turns his head one way, then the other. His own skin tight on the night, waiting to tear. The space between his heartbeats closing in.
    "Tigre," Piggy hears himself say. "Tigre, come back."

 

~

When it happens, it's such an explosion that Piggy can't put together any kind of sound picture. There is a grunt, and a yell, a Tigre yell, must be, and air rushing into lungs, and air rushing out, and something sharp dragging across cement, and Pluto's lighter falling, and Piggy's helmet hitting the ground, like a skull cracking open, and something running, and over it all a guttural noise, an erupting volcano, a sound from the center of the earth.
    The wrought iron rusts through in Piggy's fingers. Echoes off of everything.
    "Tigre?" says Piggy.
    A breathing something. It's at the water, at the bars, coming over the fence.
    "Tigre?" Piggy says.
    "What is it? What?" says Pluto.
    "Run!" yells Piggy. "Run!"
    They trip over each other, go down in a tangle of Bad Bengali arms and legs. Piggy throws his hands out in front of his face. Drops like rain on his prickly skin. Blood is all he can think. Then a big Tigre laugh.
    "Pussies," says Tigre. "Pussy faggots."
    "Tigre?" says Pluto.
    "You thought Hobbes was coming to get you?" says Tigre. "Ho, ho, ho!"
    "Who's the baddest?" says Tigre. "Who?"
    "You touch him?" asks Tuna.
    "Touch him? I pull his tail."
    Piggy listens to Pluto and Tuna and Angel dance a circle around Tigre, slap the bare skin of Tigre, the brave skin of Tigre.
    "You touch the fucking tiger! You touch the baddest animal. Shit, shit, shit!"
    "Man, you large. You fucking large!"
    "You hear him roar? He was pissed man, pissed."
    All of Piggy's skin beating, like a heart, ticking, like time.
    "Piggy?" says Tigre.
    Tigre's okay. Everything's going to be okay.
    "Where you at?" asks Tigre.
    Piggy wipes his face with his sleeve. All the heat has run out of this place.
    "Piggy?"
    Piggy listening harder.
    "Piggy, what?"
    "I'm not hearing him," says Piggy.
    "What?"
    "I'm not hearing Hobbes."
    "Hearing him what?"
    "Breathing."
    Their own breathing dropping away.
    "Maybe he went inside. There's an inside."
    "Something fell," says Piggy. "Something went down hard."
    Pluto finds his lighter. Piggy at their shoulders, peering with the skin on his face. Quiet except the burning air. As clear a picture as his blind eyes have ever seen.
    "Hobbes sleeping?"
    "Twisted funny-like. Like awkward."
    "Hey, Hobbes, get up!"
    "That fucking tiger ain't moving, he's dead."
    "Dead?" says Tigre.
    "Probably a fucking heart attack, all those McNuggets."
    "Dead?" says Tigre again.
    "Fucking Mc-Heart attack for sure."

 

~

Piggy has fallen off the edge of a flat earth, into a darkness he has never known. He stumbles with his hands out in front of him, as if groping toward the end of his life. He kneels, to hold Tigre, to not fall over.
    "I'm sorry," says Piggy.
    "I love that Hobbes," says Tigre.
    "I'm sorry," says Piggy again.
    "What am I going to do with no Hobbes?"
    As if seeing himself for the first time. The taste of his own teeth in his mouth. Piggy, who already knew too much, knows more. We are the baddest animal, thinks Piggy. The baddest animal is me. The summer Tigre is still going to be the champion of the world, the summer Piggy still reads books.

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