Not a Proper Way to Go

by Austin Hayden

You aren’t allowed to do that, Bethany! 

That’s what Kemp told her. 

To do what, she asked him? 

Don’t even ask him, I told her. 

We were behind her house at the train tracks.

Those two shoveled most of the road kill onto the rails.  A week earlier, Beth and I had scooped up four ran-over varmints on Kimberly Road, and they had been rotting in a trash bag for a few days until Kemp got back from scout camp.

 I’ve learned so much, Kemp told us that morning, about the value of life and the true beauty of death.  Kemp’s hair was down to his shoulders, so he pony-tailed it.  His troop leader bought all the boys pocketknives, and Kemp spent the first fifteen minutes out there at the tracks cutting the foot off of a decomposing rabbit.

 It’s for good luck, he reminded us while he sawed the twiggy bone with a two-inch nail file.  Browned blood emphasized the cracks in his fingers.

To do that! he said to Bethany, pointing at a penny on the track.

I said it would be fine. 

I said, don’t worry about it too much, Kemp.

Kemp shoved me across the rail, and I stumbled onto my back.  I laid there for a second, sprawled out, feeling the iron heat of the sun burnt rebar on my side, and I looked over, eye-level, at the heap of dead animals.

That’s not a proper way to go, I said to myself.

Bethany, huffed, and she looked at me like, can I put another couple pennies down?

Don’t even ask me, I told her, either.  I got to my feet and climbed off the tracks.

She looked at the sky, raised her fist and yelled up.

The tracks shook.  It could have been an earthquake.  This roaring train whistle.

Kemp put his stained hand on Beth’s shoulder in such a way that could have calmed a hail storm.  His expression was a manhole cover, hard and cold and full.

He spoke slowly. 

Check it out, he trembled, watch them die again.

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Austin Hayden writes on the front porch of a house without heat in Muncie, Indiana. Muncie has a college in it, and Austin goes there.
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