An account by an unnamed gangbanger, as provided by by Theodore C. Van Alst, Jr.
Art provided by Luke Spooner
We talked a ton of shit one summer night, when the air outside was soft, and the light was so warm you could sleep on the sidewalk just forever. Ten or two or four immortal teenagers with an endless supply of icy beer in sweaty brown bottles we chugged and threw over our shoulders into the street when we were done drinking, and finished burping. We sat along the guard rail on Fargo Ave. that kept drunks from driving off into the football field / baseball diamond / soccer field because the street was a perfect 90° and the city must’ve figured it was cheaper to put up a long, corrugated piece of metal than to replace the streetlights we kept knocking out and the sign we kept taking down because well, that shit is funny.
The dark rippled and rolled under Chicago’s own Northside brand of visible humidity, and our voices pressed back down into our own faces, the night’s fog keeping our noise and our boombox sounds out of the homes of anyone who would’ve called the cops. You know, one of those perfect deep summer nights, yellowy arc light carried on a breeze that’s just enough to keep you from getting too hot, but not too much that you have to put your shirt on, cover up that new needle, string, and India ink “The Cross is Boss” tattoo you did the other night, the one that might be infected, but still looks cool. A perfect listless Tuesday that you remember one afternoon cutting through the lines of minivans and tired SUVs in some soul-crushing parking lot on your way to get keys made, or a flat of petunias, or some bullshit like that. A night just damp enough that all the fireflies in the city decided they needed to get laid, and came over to dance in that field so currently free of drunks, and drivers, and any activity but collecting dew. Jimmy and JD (run the two letters together and say it “jayyyyde”) talked shit like they usually did, spit the laws of Folks and the six-point star, LoveLifeLoyaltyKnowledgeWisdomUnderstanding, not because they cared, but because they needed each other to help them remember all that shit and then remembered how proud they were to be Royals and not BGD’s, Ain’t No Pity in Simon City, how brave they were, how much they hated Kings, made fun of each other’s moms, and then slowly noticed the fireflies starring all around their heads, like they had ascended to the heavens with no celestial warning. Jimmy was always smarter, and quicker, and he flung his half-full beer and caught a handful and smashed the lighting bug butts onto the ends of his thumb and pointer and pinky fingers so he could make an upside-down crown in the dark, King Killer, but JD just rubbed them on his teeth, and grinned, and made us laugh, his always-toxic mouth now appropriately adorned in glowing greeny-yellow.
It flows through the alleys like a waterless flood, rising up the sides of broken brick garages, hissing along bleached yellow-sided sheds and silently drowns the sumacs and chicory that grip the blacktop like ghost-colored two- and three-leafed urban bonsai. It’s the breeze that blows through the midsummer dark, pulling at the veil between the worlds that’s oh-so-thin right now, balances and harmonies teeter so delicately and sometimes come down just a little bit wrong, their landings bringing the unexpected through the caul into the world on our side. We sense a shift in the air, cooler than before, but as we blink through this new fog, it’s not why we shudder.
The now 12-foot-tall lightning bugs snap at us, their fuzzy pincers and spiky arms hold us at the throat, and pull steadily down with their third and fourth legs until we just pop in their hard, unyielding embrace, and they smear our blood on their forelegs, and drape our intestines between their antennae, and chitter, eyes flashing, their abdomens glowing brighter in humor and health, as they skitter through the dew in that cold, green field, the one no drunks will dare for a long time to come, our failing cries sink into the grass out of sound, and then sight.
I watch JD’s smile fade in the dark.
Our narrator is a young gangbanger on the NorthSide of Chicago who takes notes, pays attention, thinks about things, and writes them down. This is his report of a summer night gone way different than he thought it would.
Theodore C. Van Alst, Jr., is Associate Professor and Chair of Native American Studies at the University of Montana. He is co-editor and Creative Editor for Transmotion (an on-line journal of postmodern indigenous studies). His short story collection about sort of growing up in Chicago, Sacred Smokes, will be published Summer 2018 by the University of New Mexico Press, who also published his edited volume The Faster Redder Road: The Best UnAmerican Stories of Stephen Graham Jones. His fiction and photography have been published in Entropy, The Rumpus, The Raven Chronicles, High Desert Journal, and Yellow Medicine Review, among others.
Luke Spooner, a.k.a. ‘Carrion House,’ currently lives and works in the South of England. Having recently graduated from the University of Portsmouth with a first class degree, he is now a full time illustrator for just about any project that piques his interest. Despite regular forays into children’s books and fairy tales, his true love lies in anything macabre, melancholy, or dark in nature and essence. He believes that the job of putting someone else’s words into a visual form, to accompany and support their text, is a massive responsibility, as well as being something he truly treasures. You can visit his web site at www.carrionhouse.com.
“Guts” is © 2018 Theodore C. Van Alst, Jr.
Art accompanying story is © 2018 Luke Spooner