Aldo's own pockets bulged with sunflower seeds. He had no gun, only the bow and arrows he got for Christmas. Fiberglass and the color of the key lime pie, the bow looked harmless. It was a toy, almost. But on long summer afternoons, when Dominique Scabbone brought over her father's Remington repeater, Aldo used the bow to hunt the rabbits and squirrels that lived in the wooded foothills near their homes. He even shot at a deer once. But unlike Dominique, who shot butterflies, snakes, salamanders, turtles, fish, birds, raccoons, and stray Weimaraners, Aldo never hit anything. And though Aldo often asked, Dominique would let no one touch her father's Remington.|
Aldo's mother always told him to stay close to home. But she would be out for hours, ringing doorbells and pushing Skin So Soft. His father, a corporate safety director, always told him to stay away from Dominique--the only kid Aldo's age in the neighborhood--because she was reckless. Neither of Aldo's parents knew Dominique could pick the lock on Mr. Scabbone's gun cabinet, and Aldo wasn't going to tell them.
Woodman Creek ran through a shallow canyon along the interstate. Houses overlooked the creek from nearby hillsides, but Aldo and Dominique, in jeans and dark T-shirts, could hunt among the willow thickets or under the sandstone bluffs without attracting attention. To the drivers of cars and trucks roaring along the Interstate above, they were invisible.
A head taller than Dominique, Aldo bent at the waist, his bow held horizontal to the ground, an arrow on the string. The feathered ends of the other arrows protruded from a quiver, worn like a sword sheath on his belt. He wore his hair short, and the breeze blowing down the creek bed cooled his scalp. As he hunted, he lifted his feet high and placed each canvas shoe on sand or sandstone, avoiding leaves and twigs. For a clean shot Aldo had to get close to the game--unlike Dominique, who shoved branches aside and stomped through clotted leaves.
The stomping flushed a cottontail. Dominique brought the Remington's black barrel up; a high-pitched squeal followed the shot.
Both of them ran to where the cottontail lay. One leg twitched and white bands formed at the outer edges of its eyes.
"Put it out of its misery," Aldo said. "My dad says a good hunter never lets an animal suffer, even if he has to shoot it again."
"Shoot it again?" Dominique put the end of the Remington's barrel against the cottontail's twitching foot. "You mean here?"
"In the head, stupid."
Dominique put the barrel against the puff of tail. "How about here?"
This time she pulled the trigger, and the cottontail's rear legs jerked. She began firing rapidly, putting bullets everywhere but in the cottontail's head.
As shot after shot echoed from the bluffs, Aldo turned away and walked downstream, once again holding his bow ready.
The tracks of skunks, raccoons, porcupines, coyotes, and something big--bobcat or cougar--marked the wet sand. The creek drained the slopes of the Rampart Range, a few miles west of the highway, and people who lived closer to the mountains sometimes saw bears. Alone, Aldo had hiked upstream as far as the ranch at the foot of the Ramparts, where a barbed-wire fence bearing No Trespassing signs dipped into the creek to keep cattle from wading under. He had stopped and gazed at the rocky, pine-covered slopes. Dominique would have ignored the signs, he thought. She would have crossed the fence and shot a cow or calf. Someday, he wanted to cross the fence and climb the mountains. And someday, he hoped, Dominique would come face to face with something big--a bobcat or cougar or bear; something that wouldn't let out a high-pitched squeal, roll over, and die. But she liked to kill better than she liked to walk, so most days they hunted close to home.
A mile downstream, the canyon flattened out and the creek emptied into a series of ponds near the South Gate of the Air Force Academy. Ducks roosted among the cattails and marsh grasses, though none showed themselves today.
Only the eyes and nostrils of frogs dotted the surface of the pond. Dominique killed three frogs before the others vanished. The dead ones' legs kicked as they bobbed on the surface. She stood on the grassy bank, the rifle ready, and fired each time a frog came up for air.
Aldo sat on a rock and cracked sunflower seeds with his teeth. The worst fight he and Dominique ever had started here, at the pond, in the days before Dominique got her hands on the rifle. At the time, they were fishing for frogs--casting a spinning lure beyond a frog's head, reeling in the line with a slow, easy motion until the lure was a few inches from the target, then tugging hard.
Usually, they missed. Sometimes, they hooked the frog's head, lip, leg, back, or belly. Dominique kept their catch in a bucket. She planned to use the frogs for a basement science experiment, she said, and for the sake of science Aldo didn't mind helping. But that was before he knew her well. He enjoyed the challenge of frogging until his hook lodged in the eye socket of a bullfrog, somehow encircling the eyeball without puncturing it.
For a long time, Aldo worked to remove the hook, but the barb caught on the corner of the eye. He stood there, lightheaded, the hook in one hand and the struggling bullfrog in the other.
Dominique reached out her hand. "Give him here," she said. "I'll get the hook out."
Careful to keep slack in the line, Aldo handed her the frog.
She looked at it. Then she yanked hard on the line and threw the bullfrog as far as she could into the pond.
Aldo shoved her when she grinned. Dominique punched him, but Aldo was heavier and stronger. He soon pinned her to the wet ground. Later, he couldn't have said why he did it, but as they struggled he leaned down and kissed Dominique on the lips.
She went slack. When he stopped kissing her, she looked up at him, her brown eyes narrow and flat. "Get off."
Aldo scrambled to his feet. He was collecting his fishing gear, to go home, when she punched him in the ear. This skirmish lasted longer than the first, and he had to fight harder, but it ended the same way, with Aldo sitting on her chest.
"I'm not getting up till you promise to stop fighting," he said.
And so it went, all the way home--ambushes, short, fierce struggles, broken promises. Each time, Aldo had to decide whether to sit on Dominique forever or let her go. He wondered if he should knock her out, but his parents taught him never to hit a girl. By the time they fought their way to his backyard, Dominique still showed no sign of giving up, no sign of reason. For the first time, looking into her flat brown eyes, Aldo felt scared. He made it to the house by shoving her down and running for the door. Even then, as he reached the porch, a rock glanced off his skull.
Aldo clapped a hand to the back of his head, and it came away bloody. He fought back tears. "You bitch."
Before she moved out of sight beyond the line of stunted spruces, Dominique said, "Next time I'll kill you."
After the fight, Aldo swore never to see Dominique again. But he soon tired of the long summer afternoons in the back yard, spent kicking a football or dodging the arrows he shot straight up in the air. Within a few weeks, he went back to ranging the hillsides with her, digging tunnels into the creek banks, building forts, playing army, and waging spear grass wars. He didn't try to kiss her again. And he took care to prevent arguments from becoming fights, even when Dominique did something crazy--like empty her rifle into a cottontail.
"Look at that." Dominique pointed the black barrel of the Remington at a twin-engine airplane. The airplane flew over a landing field to the north, leaving a trail of parachutes.
Aldo spit out a sunflower seed husk. "Cool," he said. "Must be the Air Academy cadets."
"Must be stupid bastards to jump out of a perfectly good airplane."
"It takes guts," Aldo said. "My dad saw a cadet die once. The parachute opened wrong and didn't even slow the guy down. Imagine falling thousands of feet, watching the ground get closer and closer, knowing you're about to die."
"Smack," Dominique said and laughed. "Cadet pancake."
Aldo frowned and Dominique laughed harder. She aimed at the lead parachute. "Pow, pow, pow," she said. "How far away are they? Two miles?"
Aldo shaded his eyes with his hand. "Maybe less. Why?"
She answered by pulling the trigger until the Remington was out of bullets. As she dug in her pockets for more, the parachutes dipped behind the cattails.
Aldo sat there, a sunflower seed between his teeth. This wasn't like the cottontail--or the ghostly, half-crazed Weimaraner. This wasn't something Aldo could turn and walk away from. He didn't know what to do, so he sat there with the sunflower seed between his teeth. Then he spit out the seed and started laughing.
"Jesus," he said. "You're crazy."
Dominique grinned down at him.
"You know those little black dots under the parachutes?" Aldo said. "Those are people."
She shook her head. "Look like pigeons."
"You can't shoot at people." Aldo picked up his bow. "They'll put you in jail. We have to get out of here, now, before the police come."
Bent at the waist, weapons ready, they ran upstream, moving from one clump of willows to the next. Far upstream, they stopped under a cliff to catch their breath. Dominique aimed the Remington at the sky. "Pow, pow, pow," she said and laughed so hard that she collapsed onto the sand.
This time, Aldo refused even to smile. "You could've killed those guys."
Dominique went on laughing.
"Don't ever do that again."
Dominique nodded. "Come on, I have an idea."
Aldo glanced down the creek bed toward the pond. "Let's go home. They're probably looking for us."
She turned onto a game trail beyond the cliff and started up a steep embankment. Aldo watched from the creek bed for a minute. Then he followed her.
Above Woodman Creek, the trail wound through thickets of scrub oak and into a stand of ponderosa pines. It ended at the crest of a bluff that overlooked the Interstate--the same bluff from which, four years ago, they watched John and Jackie Kennedy.
Dominique sat on a rock at the edge of the bluff. Aldo stood next to her, looking down at the passing cars.
"What are we doing here?"
The sandstone cliffs fell in two steps to Woodman Creek, where a four-lane steel bridge spanned the canyon. The sound of the tires rose in pitch as cars and trucks passed over the bridge. Aldo stood next to Dominique and plucked his bowstring with the tip of an arrow, making a low musical sound, like an off-key guitar.
The drone of an engine drew Aldo's eyes north. The plane was passing over the airfield, leaving another trail of parachutes.
Aldo pointed at the parachutes and turned his head to tell Dominique they had nothing to worry about. That's when she started shooting.
There were three shots. A station wagon swerved, hit the guardrail of the bridge over Woodman Creek, skidded across two lanes of traffic, and sprayed plumes of dirt as it spun into the median strip beyond the bridge.
An orange moving van almost hit the station wagon and wobbled for a moment before recovering. The truck pulled onto the shoulder of the road, brakes hissing. Dominique grinned and adjusted her aim to follow the truck driver, who climbed from the cab and ran toward the station wagon. At the shot, the driver crouched, glanced up toward the bluff, and took cover behind his truck.
The black barrel shifted to the station wagon--a beige Country Squire with a band of fake wood paneling along the doors.
"Don't!" Aldo screamed as Dominique fired again.
Tiny black dots appeared on the station wagon's hood and roof, and Aldo heard the delayed thump of impact that followed each shot.
The station wagon door opened and the sound of crying children reached the bluff. A woman got out, carrying the slack body of a small child in her arms. Blood stained the front of the woman's white dress. Three other children, a boy and two girls, got out and ran with the woman to the moving van, whose driver waved to them.
Dominique thrust one hand into her jeans pocket.
Aldo jerked the rifle out of her hand and stepped back, the rifle and his bow clutched in a shifting bundle against his chest.
Dominique's face was pale, her brown eyes sharp and gleaming. "That's my rifle," she said. "I don't want you touching it. I never said you could touch it."
Aldo felt weak and out of focus. "You promised you wouldn't do it again."
Dominique's grin showed all her teeth, white and even. "Shoot pigeons?"
"You shot a kid."
Aldo backed to the edge of the bluff and Dominique followed. He shifted the Remington into one hand and, holding it by the barrel, extended it as far as he could reach over the brink of the upper cliff. "Get back."
"If you drop it, I'll kill you."
Aldo let the rifle fall. As he ran, he heard Dominique's squeal of rage, followed by the splintering of wood far below. The next thing Aldo expected to hear was Dominique's feet on the trail behind him. The thought made him run faster.
At the creek bed, Aldo crouched on his knees behind a clump of willows. He drew an arrow from the quiver, notched it on the bowstring, and aimed at the point where the trail met the creek. The jolt of his heart made it hard to hold the bow steady. He waited, the bowstring drawn back, the arrow bobbing with his heartbeat, for Dominique to come grinning down the embankment toward him.
Before long, Aldo's arm shook so much he had to relax the bow. The image of the woman in the white dress, holding the child's body as she ran, stayed in his mind. To go home would mean climbing the hillside, climbing toward Dominique, so Aldo went upstream instead.
Distant sirens were coming closer. There would be policemen at the bridge. He could ask for help, tell them what he knew, make sure Dominique didn't shoot anyone else. But he'd looked away when she shot the Weimaraner and laughed when she shot at the cadets, so they'd say he encouraged her. And when he took the Remington away, too late to help the kid, he must have left fingerprints on the barrel. Dominique would know that. She might even say he did the shooting.
Aldo heard feet stomping through leaves. The sound came from behind him, from beyond a bend in the creek.
To avoid leaves and twigs, he lifted his feet high as he ran, careful to step only on grass or rock or sand. He passed under the bridge, far below the shouts and sirens, and reached the next bend without seeing or being seen by Dominique. The sandstone walls were high here, and too steep to climb. Less than a mile away, the creek bed was cut by a deep gully filled with rusting cars. Aldo played there sometimes. The cars formed a giant staircase to a neighborhood west of the highway, where there were lots of places to hide.
From behind him, under the bridge, came the distant sound of footsteps. Aldo ran on, as rapidly and quietly as he could. The creek passed under a metal aqueduct before curving north and flowing almost straight for half a mile. Once, dared by Dominique, Aldo had crossed the aqueduct like a tightrope walker, balancing with his arms thrust out, looking only at the steel pipe ahead of his feet and ignoring the long drop to Woodman Creek. It was the only time Aldo could remember impressing her. And it was the only time he ever felt truly scared--until now, as Dominique came steadily after him through the rotting leaves under the bridge.
The willows in the creek bed gave only scattered cover and, out of breath before he was halfway to the rusting cars, Aldo realized he had to find a good hiding place now. Just ahead, the trunk of a fallen ponderosa angled into the creek from the top of a cutbank. There were deep shadows under the bank, screened by the brown needles still clinging to the tree's remaining branches.
Aldo's first urge was to go straight to the cutbank. Instead, he ran upstream for a short distance, letting a handful of sunflower seeds trickle through his fingers. A few yards beyond the ponderosa, where the grass grew lush, he stepped into the creek and waded into the shadows under the cutbank. Kneeling in the cool water, he put an arrow on his bowstring.
A short time later, through the screen of brown needles, he saw Dominique. In her arms she cradled what was left of the Remington. The fall had split the stock, leaving a long, triangular sliver of wood below the trigger guard. Dominique held the sliver in her right hand, her finger on the trigger. Any hope that the rifle itself was broken ended with Aldo's glimpse of Dominique's pale face and hunter's walk--eager and half-crouching.
Her flat brown eyes searched the creek bed, probing the willow thickets. She bent to pick up one of the sunflower seeds and ran for a few steps along the trail of seeds that he had left her. Then she stopped and turned toward the shadows under the dead ponderosa. Aldo fought the impulse to run, to flush from cover like a frightened cottontail, but the key lime bow--almost a toy--made him different from the cottontail, from the Weimaraner, from the kid.
"I know you're there," Dominique said.
Aldo stayed still, bent low over the water, as a bullet grazed the trunk of the tree and struck the cutbank.
"Nobody but you knows I shot anybody," Dominique said. "And nobody knows we were together. You didn't tell your mom, did you?"
She was coming closer, angling upstream toward a point where the trunk of the ponderosa would give him no cover. Aiming the bow at a steep angle, Aldo shot an arrow high into the air over the creek bed. Then he fitted another arrow to the bowstring, and stood up.
Dominique's brown eyes followed the first arrow to the peak of its flight. Not until Aldo released the second arrow did she glance at him. The arrow hit her high in the chest. The rifle went off, and Dominique fell back onto the wet sand.
Behind the ponderosa, Aldo knelt in the cool creek and cried until Dominique stopped moving. The first arrow was stuck in the grass at the other side of the creek. He put it back in his quiver.
Aldo didn't want to touch the body, didn't want to look into the flat brown eyes. So he left her there, the arrow in her chest. As he reached the gully filled with junked cars, he heard shouts--deep and angry--coming from the creek bed behind him. He paused at the foot of the giant, rusted staircase, wanting to climb to the safety of his backyard, to the home that smelled of Skin So Soft. But he knew he couldn't go back there, that having ambushed and killed his only friend he no longer belonged. He walked up Woodman Creek toward the ranch at the foot of the Rampart Range, leaving the angry shouts behind. He would ignore the No Trespassing sign, cross the barbed-wire fence, climb the rocky, pine-covered slopes of the mountains--see what he could see before they hunted him down.
Please send us your comments, including the name of the work you are commenting on.
Copyright © 1999-2003 by Amarillo Bay. All rights reserved.