We once knew a girl that could only say the names of animals. When she was born, she opened her mouth and a horrible clicking noise clattered forth. Her mother named her Cricket because that was the first animal she saw in her first American apartment, infestations of legs swarming up into the stove and burning themselves in the gas fires. Cricket’s father refused to sleep with his wife anymore because he said she bred monsters, so Cricket’s mother went and fucked the neighbor boy. Alexander Gao was leaving for college to study engineering that summer but that was the way Cricket’s mother planned it, no escape for Cricket’s father and eventually he had to take responsibility for the painful-looking bulge in her stomach. Katy was born seven and a half months later, an ugly premature creature that looked like a purple roly-poly we all wanted to crush beneath our feet, anticipating something oozing but not quite knowing what it was. There were two hills behind our houses, spiking up into the air. We weren’t quite sure what to name them: in the movies we watched, the main characters always had cutesy names for the landmarks where they played, naming bodies of water and local strip malls after colors and vague-sounding nouns, like Silver Lake or simply The Haunt. The boys thought that the hills looked like a lopsided ass so that’s what we called it: Lop Ass around each other and merely The Lop when we were in our parents’ company. Sometimes we let it slip and we said Lop Ass around our parents but they thought we meant the new Vietnamese kid that had moved into the neighborhood. That was the first lie we let them believe. While our mothers worked as cashiers at the grocery store and our fathers left for the city, we snuck out to Lop Ass, Pied Piper children following the tunes of a nature dirge. Cricket’s mother often asked us to watch her two daughters while she bagged groceries, so we had to let Katy tag along with us. We were eleven and twelve years old and we didn’t like the thought of a six-year-old knowing our secrets, but we took turns carrying her anyway. We saw a coyote on its hind legs at the crest of the hills’ left buttock. Its left forelimb was broken off, and we all peered closer to see blood shining on bone, so sweetly that we all fell into a prayer circle and begged for a taste of it. Cricket pointed at the coyote and blurted Dog. We all fell silent and told her to say it again. She chanted the word dog over and over, like a war cry that flung itself skyward into the waning sky. The coyote rolled over, stuck its tongue out, and died right there. We couldn’t believe our luck. We had never had coyote meat before, only the fake plastic meat that our mothers smuggled underneath their aprons at the grocery store, stinking up their clothes so horribly that our fathers made them sleep outside for a month. We couldn’t agree on what part to eat first: would it be better to save the fattiest part for last, to leave our tongues with a final kiss of luxury, or to eat that part first and forever be able to immortalize the moment that we first ate real coyote meat? The boys snapped its left forelimb into two parts and began jousting each other, mimicking the action films that we saw on TV, with the shirtless muscle men spearing each other into subordination. Night began to fall like bullets, guns shooting holes into the sky that bled as dark as hunger, smearing the sky with a throbbing ache. It was cold, and we didn’t want to eat raw coyote meat, so we looked for ways to start a fire. Our mothers always made us carry around matchsticks so that if the police ever came to take them away, we would be able to smoke them out of our neighborhood, sealing our mothers in fire. We didn’t have anywhere to strike them though, until we realized that the trees around us looked like matchboxes. We took turns trying our luck, until finally we managed to start a low-burning flame. It wasn’t hot enough to cook the meat, though, and we decided that we had to sacrifice something to the altar of the gods so that way they would take pity on us and distend the limbs of our fire to look like our mothers when they were seven months pregnant. We chose to sacrifice Katy, nameless, faceless Katy. We threw her into the fire and watched in worship as the fire accepted her body. We did not mourn her because we did not know her. After we finished our coyote feast, we fell asleep in the warmth of the firelight and prayed that morning would not come for a very long time. We woke up to the sound of bugs rubbing their wings together, and we copied them by rubbing our forearms together. We taught Cricket that they were called katydids, and she responded promptly by warbling Katydid, katydid, katydid. We smelled smoke. At first, we thought it was the memories of last night clinging to our clothes, choking out our innocence and rebirthing us in the flames, but as we slid over the crest of the hill we realized that there were only scorch marks in the places we once called home. Our mothers asked us who burned down the neighborhood. Cricket opened her mouth and wailed out, Katydid, katydid, katydid. Katy’s dead, we think to ourselves, but we allow her to take the fall for the fire as we return to the hills where our mothers will never know to look for us.
Senna Xiang is a teen writer. Her work is published in GASHER Journal, Peach Magazine, and other lovely places.