Even after Jay had coughed out what he presumed had to be the last of the pond water, he seriously felt like total shit.
“Are you okay? You passed out. How do you feel?” CJ asked. She sounded seriously worried about him. She didn’t even seem to care that his puke was all over the back of her shirt – or whatever girls call girl-shirts. Blouse, Jay remembered.
“Shit. I feel like shit. Everything feels weird. And smells weird. Like it’s burning. My eyes really fucking hurt right now. Yeah. Danger. Hi.” He was saying things he didn’t really understand. The words were just coming out of him. And, he felt like there’d been a dream. He’d dreamed something — something about a raccoon … and danger. Well, Jay already knew raccoons were fucking dangerous. He got angry. He didn’t like to think about raccoons unless he was killing them. He steeled himself. He didn’t want to cry in front of CJ, or even seem too vulnerable. He put on his toughest face: “So, seriously — what the fuck?” Jay shook his head and rubbed at both ears with the fingers of each hand. They itched.
CJ reached out both hands and grabbed Jay’s arms, helping him get to his feet. “What do you mean ‘danger hi’ ? You’re not making sense. Talk to me. And I told you — you passed out,” she said, calmly. She was regaining her composure, it sounded like. Then, “Jay — did you remember to take your meds?” She released his arms.
Jay’s head dropped on his neck a little. He hadn’t. “I dunno … — ”
CJ knew Jay’s body language, he was aware, and he could tell from her expression that she wasn’t buying it. She then proceeded to swat him with the back of her right hand against his left shoulder. “Don’t fuck around with that, Jay. You gotta take ’em.” She reached into a pocket of her backpack and took out a plastic baggie with five different medications in it. “Here,” she said. She unzipped the top of the backpack and pulled out a bottle of Clear Comet Sparkling Water. She offered the bag and bottle to Jay.
Jay reluctantly took the bag. He was glad she kept extras of his pills. He felt guilty about it, but he was glad. He’d missed his meds a few times, and it had been really bad. He opened the bag and carefully poured the pills and capsules into his right hand “Thanks. But … I- … ” He wrinkled his nose. “I don’t like them. They make me feel — … ”
CJ interrupted. “Better than this? You fell on your face.” She handed the bottle to him.
Jay couldn’t help a half-grin. “Did the fall fix my face?” He lifted his chin, as if proudly displaying his profile.
“No — you’re still super-handsome. You need to remember your meds, though.”
“Fuck you.” Jay said blandly. He sucked the medications off his dirty hand and took a long drink from the bottle before handing it back to CJ, who returned it to her backpack before zipping the bag closed. Even as Jay felt the pills go down his throat, he regretted cursing out CJ just then. Of course, he didn’t mean anything by it. And he knew CJ could tell he didn’t mean it. They both knew he could be stupid like that. He reached into his pocket and pulled out his pack of cigarettes. It was totally empty. “Fuck everything!” he said, moving to throw the cigarette pack. But then he remembered where he was, and stuffed it back into his pocket. “Yeah, I’m okay. Feeling better. But, I need a new pack of cigarettes. Can you get me some?”
“Maybe,” CJ said, sounding sad. She was obviously starting to calm down about worrying about him. “If I do — don’t smoke them in front of me. You don’t take your meds, you can pass out, Jay.” She shook her head. “And what if I’m not around, and nobody is around, and you choke or something?” She turned away from Jay, reaching into her backpack and looking at her cell phone again. The phone was still flipping on and off and showing random numbers and stuff on the screen. “I wouldn’t have been able to even call an ambulance if I needed to; something’s messing with my phone. I checked — yours was doing this, too.” she murmured, sounding thoughtful. She shook her head. “You want to wait here a while, and rest — or do you want to keep going?”
Jay felt like girls worried way too much. CJ had seen him pass out a few times before, he knew and she’d seen how quickly he’d always gotten over it in the past. “I never smoke in front of you,” Jay said. “Why would I start now?” And then, a moment of indecision roiled around in Jay’s brain before he actually answered CJ’s question about whether he wanted to continue or not. Jay considered telling CJ that he really didn’t feel like he was up to keep going — at all. Really, he just wanted to go home. He wanted to get undressed and get in bed; fuck his chores, sweeping up Redwing Automotive. He wanted to sneak into his bedroom and lock the door and put on headphones and listen to Tensilsnerk until he fell asleep. But he couldn’t. It would mean calling it quits on the Big Secret — whatever it was. And it would also mean letting down both Mickey and Rick. And, while they certainly weren’t the same kinds of friends as CJ was, Jay wasn’t going to let them down. Plus, he didn’t want to make CJ worry even more, and he decided that pretending everything was cool was the best way to do that. “And — yeah. Let’s keep going. Fuck yeah. Let’s go!” His right hand clenched into a fist and he pumped his arm into the air, albeit in a way that even he could tell looked pretty weak. “I’m fucking awesome.”
CJ seemed to know he was lying about being so eager and willing to continue, but she went along with it, giving him that particular look she always gave that said he could always change his mind about doing something stupid. But all she did was put her phone away and pull her backpack straps over her shoulders. “Yeah,” she said, simply.
Jay trudged alongside CJ, the two of them proceeding silently out of Risky’s Pond and along the soft, black soil of Mosquito Bend Path until the intersection to the start of Dog Run Trail. There weren’t any mosquitos or dogs or anything like that along the way. As they walked, Jay found himself wondering how places got their names. He thought back to Risky’s Pond, and how nobody except for a very select few people knew the name of that place — even if that meant the name was only real to him and to a few others. He wondered what it took for a name to catch on, and how long it usually took. And he thought about some of the stupid names of places around Drodden, like Fitz Circle or Applefield or Strudel Hill or Adalheidis Bridge or Peacock Farms. He imagined a group of really unimaginative German immigrants all standing around in big grassy fields saying things to each other like ‘Hey, there are lots of apples in this field– so let’s call it Applefield.’ He didn’t like it when people made decisions like that. He wanted people to do more than that. He wanted them to do better — to think. To really work out a good name for a place. Like he did. At least, with a name like Risky’s Pond, the name of the place actually meant something. There was a secret there. Something you had to be a part of it to know. And he was a part of that secret, just like he was a part of Mickey’s Big Secret. And all of that suddenly felt really good to Jay; it made his chest feel warm. Or maybe that was just the medications ‘kicking in,’ as his dad called it. Either way, he felt better as they reached the halfway point where Dog Run Trail curved toward its end.
Just as they reached the clearing, though, CJ put a hand on Jay’s shoulder to stop him from walking, and silently pointed toward the clearing where Dog Run Trail ended.
Jay stopped feeling better, because he saw smoke. A lot of smoke. Coming from the hill where the Marsh house was.
“Fuck,” CJ said and began a breakneck run.
Jay did his best to keep up with her, but he wasn’t the best runner and she got to the bottom of the hill before him.
As she got to the bottom of the hill, CJ just looked up and froze; she was just standing there, doing nothing.
Jay loped along, even though his side was really starting to hurt. He was feeling sick in the way you feel when you run for too long. But Jay felt sick for other reasons, too. He wondered if this was the Big Secret. He wondered if Mickey had started a fire up there. And that’s when the smell hit him — putrid, like hickory-smoked cat shit. He gagged, but there wasn’t anything inside of him to puke up so it just made him heave as he came up alongside CJ and looked to where she was looking. He saw Mickey, standing at the top of the hill. The Marsh House was on fire behind him. But that wasn’t all that was burning. He could see it clearly. He had good vision — in one eye, anyway. Jay wished he couldn’t see it, though. He wished he could make it so that everything was all just a blur, but he saw it clearly; Mickey, standing naked with his head held high and arms outstretched, small fires burning on either side of him — fires that were burning up two chairs. And Victor and Gunny Marsh were tied to the chairs. Their bodies were already pretty destroyed at that point, but Jay was sure it had to be them. The shapes in the chairs were blackened and distorted, but Jay knew for sure what he was looking at – bodies.
CJ just kept on staring, big-eyed. Her mouth kept opening and closing, like she was going to say something, but she didn’t speak. Her face looked horror-struck, lips curled down into an ugly frown of revulsion and disgust.
Jay couldn’t move for a long moment. He suddenly remembered that he’d thought he’d seen something in the water of the pond when his head had fallen in, but he couldn’t recall what he’d seen. He figured it had to have been that dream he’d had, when he’d passed out — the one he couldn’t remember. All he could really remember about passing out was the feeling of the cold water all around him, and how at the same time it had felt sort of warm and good, too. And he kept seeing the words ‘danger hi,’ floating in front of his eyes. It didn’t make sense. Nothing made sense.
Jay didn’t like Gunny or Victor Marsh, but he wanted to give them the feeling of being in that water in that moment. He wanted them to feel good, like he had. But he could tell they were both dead, and he knew neither of them would ever feel anything again. Not sick, not good, not wet or cold or anything. They couldn’t even feel hot while their bodies were burning. They were dead.
And that’s when Jay found that he had energy to run again, even though he was still gagging every so often and had that pain in the back of his head and in his side. Even though the words ‘danger hi’ kept coming back into his head. Even though it hurt even worse for him to run up the path toward the Marsh House. He ran anyway, and his brain got quieter and quieter as he ran, until he was right in front of Mickey. There were cuts in Mickey’s chest. There was a wound that looked like the number 2 beneath Mickey’s right shoulder; beneath the left shoulder was another wound that looked like the number 7.
Jay didn’t care about Mickey’s wounds, though. He noticed them, but he was too angry to care. His brain had gotten so quiet. He leapt at Mickey, taking wild swings even as he jumped, pounding his fists into Mickey’s face. Mickey did nothing to fight back. Jay knocked Mickey to the ground and began to punch the older boy over and over, in the face and neck. He hated the way Mickey was just staring at nothing with his big, dumb perfectly spaced open eyes. Jay wanted to scream, but there wasn’t any sound coming out except the sick gagging of dry heaves. So he kept on punching Mickey.
He didn’t even care when CJ finally pulled him off of Mickey, or that he could hear the distant sound of approaching police and ambulance sirens.