She should have erased it. Gena knew better than to leave it there, let her anger burn like it did. But then, darn it, why did Jeff have to be such a pickle-headed goober? After all, weren’t they like best friends forever? Which meant he was always supposed to be on her side, and she on his, thick and thin, till the world exploded or was swallowed up by a worm hole, either one. They even pinkie-swore on it.
She raced across the Miller’s Creek covered bridge, her tennis shoes slapping against the cold hard wood. Ahead, through the open mouth at the end of the bridge, the mountains stood black in bas-relief against the pale glow of the rising moon.
“Oh… God,” she said, the words heaving out between each labored breath.
She cleared the end of the bridge and found the dark trail that led through the forest. Inside, her heart thumped against her chest. Her throat burned. Her lungs burned. Her legs burned. And right now, she wished she would burn and rise up like smoke, carried away by the winds.
“Please God, no.”
“Shut it, Gena.”
Behind her, Jeff’s footfalls thwocked! out of the black mouth of the covered bridge. There was no mistaking the anger in his voice as he finally cleared the entrance and took the path behind her. “Just get there before it’s too late.”
They took the trail into the forest.
Certainly, if anyone had a right to be angry, Jeff did. It had all started out as some harmless fun, just a game. Their own little secret. At first, they even laughed at it, thinking no way could it possibly be true. It was just another example that Grandma needed to take the big sleep in a rest home somewhere.
At the birthday party last week, Gena opened grandmother’s present to her and stared at it perplexed.
“A piece of chalk?”
“Not just any chalk,” Grandma had said, one finger in the air. “This is anything you can think of in your heart. Just put it down and… voilà!” Grandma’s wiry eyebrows jumped. Her hands pulled apart like a bomb had exploded between them. She stared a Gena for a moment, smiling like she was about to say something else, but didn’t. Instead, she shuffled away, cackling and repeating the same thing. “Voilà!”
To test it out, they decided on old man Winters, who was always yelling at the neighbors to keep their dogs out of his hibiscus. They sat down on the cement patio behind Gena’s house and drew Mr. Winter’s house, his garden, and twenty rabbits. The next morning, the whole block was talking about the swarm of cotton tails that had devoured Mr. Winter’s garden.
At first, Gena and Ted stared at each other, their mouths open, no words coming out. After that, they grabbed their sides and rolled along her front yard, laughing at the sky, the clouds, the sun, anything they could.
The next victim was Sheila McGlocken. They drew her face with a hundred white dots. Nobody counted the pimples the next day. They were all too grossed out.
In the cover of the forest now, Gena tripped and hit the dirt hard. A burst of wind cut through the trees, and a loud shriek filled the air.
“C’mon,” Jeff yelled. “Get up.”
Gena stood and ran as fast as she could.
They had been having fun, she thought, drawing this and that, waiting to see it all happen. But then earlier today the fun stopped.
“So,” Gena said as they walked away from the school. “I hear you have the hots for Denise Wilcox.”
“Where’d you hear that?”
“It doesn’t matter, does it?”
He looked over his shoulder toward the school where a group of girls stood talking.
“Besides,” she said, “I can see it on your face.”
“No you can’t, and whoever said it is a liar.” He turned and ran. “And you’re a stupid scag for believing it.”
She stopped, unsure that she heard him right. But then it all set in, and it made her angry.
“I’m a stupid scag, huh?”
She reached into her backpack, and knelt down to draw. Finished, she stood up and walked home, pleased with herself. It was a silly thing to do, of course. Still, it made her feel good just the same.
Later she couldn’t wait to tell Jeff what she did.
“You drew the devil coming after me?”
“Yeah,” she said, laughing. “And sticking his pitchfork up your butt.”
“Are you out of your flippin’ mind?”
“What’s the big deal?” she said, even more put out by the way he yelled at her. “It’s not like it’ll ever happen. You and I both know the devil doesn’t exist. He’s about as real as...”
A whiff of rotten eggs burned at her nose.
Jeff’s eyes bulged as he took a deep breath.
“Oh God,” he cried. “You gotta erase it before the moon comes up. After that, it’ll be too late.”
They cleared the woods and ran across a harvested corn field, the cut stalks poking through the hard dirt like the skeletal fingers of a thousand dead people. A gust of wind blew at her, and Gena thought she heard laughter in the distance.
They ran around the fence and across the playground, the gravel shick-shick-shicking! with each pounding footfall. They finally stopped at the spot where Gena had drawn her masterpiece; only, looking at it now the pictured appeared more like the scratching of an idiot. Gena felt like the idiot now.
“Quickly,” Jeff screamed, his eyes frantic as he looked around. The wind howled. “Erase it. Please.”
Gena dropped down and swept her hands wildly across the sidewalk, the chalked images swirling into a ghostly pool until it was all gone.
The air suddenly turned still.
“Okay,” she said, laughing now as she glanced across the playground. “It’s gone.”
She looked over her shoulder.