about the author

Austin Hayden is a fiction editor at NOÖ Journal. He lives in St. Louis.

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Way Back  

Austin Hayden

First is me snapping the pic. Bottom of Becky’s shirt’s up-over her forehead. I click the camera like it’s what I was born to do.

Lumpy Walmart manager like, “What are you kids doing?”

I say, “Go die!” throwing a cat cage at him through the air.

And then we’re running. Through aisles, zig-zag, and hitting carts clanging when I pass. Uh oh. Hand bleeding. Red juice fling is my game all of a sudden. Splatter an old broad’s sweater. Flick the wall of flat-screens with my life goop.

Becky’s exposé will exist a snapshot forever in the pet aisle. Cat food, treats, toys, Becky full-frontal. That’s after I begged. Dusty knees crawling after her begged. Sorry midget sorry, down on the ground chasing her, sliding on the tile hands cupped.

See, she wasn’t to blame here. Show me the cross; strap it to me like a Jansport.

Fool proof plan? No. Security cameras. NSA. Sam’s your uncle. Whatevs.

Mr. Lumpy huffs. Breathing hard. Could never keep up except we don’t know the store. The layout’s whopper-jawed and I’m high on Grandma’s cabinet pills.

That’s a lie.

Gram’s weak pharms suck chubs. My brand of buzz obliges certain mixed ingredients. A senior I know snaps security caps off Svedka handles in two-moves. Vice grips. I’ve seen her bite them off, too. She’s my hook-up. Two vikes and a big swig: that’s me.

Becky studies harder than me, and I love her for it. I have never felt embarrassed for her in class. She carries herself.

A third forced U-turn. Okay, fine, big check mark in the pills box. I’m seeing blurry.

In the parking lot, a security golf cart, sirens spinning, camps. I see the lights and nope back toward the back. And this is my place in the world as I’m now realizing it, running like a ghost-ride bike into a wall.

I’m sixteen. Ex-girlscout. Weekly acolyte at my church until grade seven.

Now nothing matters to me in school. I vape in the copy room. I’ve stayed up late trying to get the stuff, warp my mush into the shape of a brain. Nothing’s happened for me. It’s boring, but Cunningham, grade giver, says I’ve got composition engrained deeply. Sees it in my photos, says he.

Snatch a Reese’s for fun on my backtrack. I’m chucking trash at babies in strollers. I’m spitting chocolate at Roll Back signs.

I haven’t really done anything with Becky, who’s bi. I kissed on her neck in the car, sucked skin. Vessels burst. The only good bruises come from sex. Ask any of my guy friends. They know. Becky and I split three beers at a party before, and I held her. But that was way back. Freshman shit.

I’m onto Captain at this point. Tossing caps into yards like, “Let’s chug.” Got into an argument with a street sign once. Threw it through a windshield. Captain’s what gets me going.

So my options are few here and what do I do?

I’m thinking I should ditch her. “Split up, let’s cover more ground!”

Whoop! Bathroom break. Lose the hat. Lose the hoodie. A new woman. Bloodied fist, but nothing a cold tap can’t seal.

But, nah. Nah. Nah, that’s not right. The whole I got us into this thing, and she’s a solid girl. Doesn’t deserve that. The garden section, half-outside by design, that’s our best bet.

Over my shoulder Becky’s trailing close. Good.

At this instant, I can’t quite figure how this will play out. Not the Walmart thing; that’s hopeless. Spoiler alert, we’re going to get caught. But the Becky thing.

After it blows over. We’ll be grounded for a bit. I’ll lose phone privileges, but Dad’s a heavy-sleeper. I can breach open-window, roam free. Becky won’t sneak out, wander after me.

Plus she’ll probably hate me. Her parents definitely will.

I should just run away from home after this. Make a dramatic exit. Smash the microwave and slam the backdoor. My dog freaking out behind me.

Lumpy is gaining on us. Pink sweaty forehead like a huge zit. We’re slamming hard right turns, but there he still is in fierce pursuit.

Becky’s holding me back.

I’d book it clear out on my own. Automatic-doors sliding silently closed amidst the debris. I would escape without cohort. Scram minus hanger on.

Becky grabs my hand. Solo, I could disappear.

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