Brett Riley  

 

Far Away from the Path and a Little Bit Lost

Ten years ago, Judy Terry died on the day I came back to New Orleans. She was eleven years old. I had just turned twelve. The Terrys lived in New Orleans’s Upper 8th Ward until Hurricane Katrina drove em to Stillwater, Oklahoma. A few months later, they got a FEMA trailer and came back. Nothin left of their house but a concrete slab and a pile of trash—rotted boards with rusty nails, broken furniture, busted appliances, black mold. Mr. Terry worked day labor while they waited on their insurance check. He was helpin clean up Lakeside when Judy disappeared. 

Mrs. Terry had a bad headache that day, see, and Judy was dribblin an old basketball on the street. The sound—ping ping ping ping—thumped against Mrs. Terry’s temples while she sat in an old lawn chair and watched. After a while, she said, I’m gonna go close my eyes for thirty minutes. You stay close, you hear?

Yes, ma’am, Judy said. Girl didn’t even look up. 

Mrs. Terry went inside. When she woke up forty-five minutes later, it was close to suppertime, so she stepped outside to call Judy. 

The muddy basketball sat in the trash-choked gutter like it had been there a hundred years. Judy was gone.

Judy! Mrs. Terry hollered. Judy Terry!

Nobody answered. The quiet swallowed her voice. 

 
                                             Back Ally  

                                            Back Ally  

 

She kept hollerin. A few dozen people had come back to the Ward—black folks and white, folks with trailers and folks in tents. They found Mrs. Terry wanderin the streets, cryin and tearin her hair out. 

My baby, she said. My baby. Please help me. For Jesus’s sake. 

Somebody hopped on a bike and went to fetch Mr. Terry. When he got home, he hugged Mrs. Terry. We’ll find her, he said.

She shoved him away. Why you still here, then?

Everybody searched till long after dark. 

Somebody called the cops, who took notes and handed out their contact cards and left. Probably forgot about Judy before they made two blocks. Just another missin black girl in a butchered city.

 

* * *

You might have heard the name Romain Woods on the news—leader of the Lakefront Knights, suspected of this, arrested for that, charges dropped when the witness got amnesia overnight. Six foot two in his bare feet and two hundred and thirty pounds of muscle and guts. He was also my Daddy’s best friend. They met in first grade at Oretha Castle Haley Elementary School. Daddy was smart, short, and skinny, so the bigger kids picked on him until he started helpin Uncle Romy with math. By the time Daddy earned a full scholarship to Southern, Uncle Romy done moved to the Upper 8th and joined the Knights. Four years later, Daddy graduated with a degree in Social Work, and Uncle Romy ran the gang. He tried to talk Daddy into stayin away, but Daddy wanted to help the hood—coachin Little League and tutorin kids, shit like that. He moved into a little white house on Mexico and Arts, just down the street from Uncle Romy’s place. Met my Momma and had me. Put down his roots and let em grow. 

The Knights ran the Ward from Leon C. Simon to Gentilly, from Elysian Fields to Franklin. They slung drugs on the corners, even dropped bodies sometimes. But they never dealt to kids. Not even chronic. Nobody in the Upper 8th spent their days on the floor, hopin the stray bullets passed over their heads. My Momma died when I was just three—diabetes—but none of my friends ever did. The Knights were hard and mean, but not to their own people.  

Then, in August of 2005, Katrina hit.

Uncle Romy laughed at the weathermen. Ain’t studyin no hurricane, he said while he boarded up his windows and stockpiled canned food, bottled water, batteries. Same shit everybody does three or four times a year in New Orleans. 

Daddy wouldn’t leave, neither. Everything we got’s in this house, he said. Besides, somebody’s gotta watch Romy. He winked at me. 

Okay, then, I said. We hauled our supplies up to the attic and boarded up our windows and waited. 

Y’all know what happened next. The levees broke. Drainage system couldn’t handle the overflow. The water in our den came up to my chin. We headed up the attic stairs and waited for it to go back down.

It rose. 

Daddy wouldn’t drink much. He let me sip water from gallon jugs and fed me from cans and packs of jerky. Three days in, he went to sleep and never woke up. I think it was the heat. Dehydration. I shook him and bawled like a baby and screamed for help, but nobody came. Some of our neighbors had evacuated. Others got stuck in their own houses. A few floated in the streets. 

I laid next to Daddy, bakin like a potato in a hot oven. He started to stink. I panicked and drank all the water. My insides started to dry and shrivel. I lost track of time and hoped I’d die in my sleep, too. 

Then I heard this thumpin on the roof. Sunlight broke through. The hole got bigger and bigger. I crawled over to it. 

Uncle Romy stood up there, naked to the waist and holdin an axe. His head was bandaged up, the rags red and crusty. He had lost a lot of weight. 

Where’s your Daddy at? he said.

In here, I said. I started cryin. 

He shook his head. It’s my fault. I should have come sooner. Cracked my skull that first night and just now got my strength back. 

He hauled me outta there and hugged me. Then he started cryin, too. The big bad O.G. that had killed men with his bare hands. Fat teardrops shinin in the sun like one of them comets that come once every seventy or eighty years.

You come on home with me, he said. 

He had made a half-ass pirogue outta some old boards and rusty wire. Big-ass tree limb for a push pole. We got on and floated toward his place. Here and there, bodies bobbed on the surface like corks, swole up till they didn’t look human. 

Uncle Romy set me on his roof with a gallon of water. Baby sips, he said. Then he went back for the rest of Daddy’s supplies. 

A day later, when the National Guard came and took us to the Convention Center, Uncle Romy told em I was his daughter. Nobody asked questions. They put us on a bus to Salt Lake City. We stayed there for five or six months till we got us a FEMA trailer and headed back home. 

The trailer looked like a big-ass marshmallow in Uncle Romy’s driveway. His house had done fell over. 

We was eatin an early supper when the Wolf took Judy Terry. She was probably dead before I fell asleep that evenin, covered with fresh sheets and dreamin about Daddy. 

 

* * *

Before the storm, the Sons of the Saints dealt meth and heroin from Florida Avenue to North Claiborne and beefed with the Riverside Boys, who ran the southernmost part of the Ward. They should have owned Oretha Castle Haley, but not even the NOPD would sit back and let the bangers blaze around an elementary school, so the block between Claiborne and North Robertson Street was neutral ground. After the storm, folks who didn’t even have tents shacked up in the classrooms. The city ran em off like they had someplace else to go, but they just moved right back in.  

Two days after Mrs. Terry found her daughter’s basketball in that gutter, a man walked into OCH, lookin for a place to sleep. He opened a classroom door and near about pissed his britches. 

The desks had been pushed against the far wall. Judy’s naked body laid in the middle of the blood-spattered room, her mouth duct-taped shut. Her chest was split open, her ribs spread, arms crossed over the hole. Her legs were straight, feet together, her eyes closed. The red hoodie and dress she had been wearin were hung on the doorknob, real neat.

The man threw up and ran away. 

The NOPD showed up with the Orleans Parish coroner. They taped off the school and questioned all the black folks they could find, plus whoever else happened to be standin around. Somebody heard the coroner talkin to a detective, and that somebody told somebody else. You know how the grapevine works. No sign of sexual assault, but the killer had taken her heart. Just dug it right out. Blood everywhere, more than you’d think a little girl could hold. The cops left, just like they always do, takin Judy with em. The rest of us stayed behind in the dark and the trash. 

 

* * *

Uncle Romy bought me a can of pepper spray and a switchblade. He showed me how to hold the knife so I wouldn’t stick myself. 

Anybody fucks with you, he said, take out their eyes and then cut their goddam throat. You hear? 

Yeah, I said. 

 

* * *

Folks in the Ward watched their kids like hawks, but a few weeks later, another girl disappeared, this one from the Riverside Boys’ turf. Somebody found her in another OCH classroom, laid out just like Judy. A group of volunteer guards started watchin OCH twenty-four-seven, but it didn’t matter. We lost a girl named Sandra next. I knew her. She liked candy and cracklin and wanted to be the first girl point guard for the Lakers. When they found her body, she still wore a half-eaten cherry ringpop on her finger. Then the killer took two more girls from the lower 8th, all of em black, all of em wearin red, all of em dumped naked in OCH, their mouths taped up and their hearts ripped out. 

Folks already felt hopeless. Now they felt useless, too. Nobody went outside their trailers after dark. The tent folks camped together and slept in shifts. Even in daylight, nobody took shortcuts through ruined yards or alleys. Folks started talkin about stayin on the path, like steppin off the street meant you were lost deep in the woods. 

I don’t remember who named the killer, but callin him the Wolf made sense. Girls disappeared like somethin fast and quiet ran em down, somethin vicious with sharp teeth and mean eyes and a hard-on for the color red. The Wolf had pissed on the whole Ward and made it his. 

Everybody packed away every stitch of red they owned. Some folks talked about movin. Others was ready to go house to house, even burn down the Ward, just to drive the Wolf out. 

 

* * *

Uncle Romy met with the other gang leaders—two crew members each, no weapons—outside OCH. They laid down some rules—no more slingin or beefin until somebody put down the Wolf. They tried postin guards at the school’s doors again, but Five-O kept runnin em off, talkin crime scene, obstructing the investigation, all that bullshit. Like they gave a damn.  

I felt the Wolf’s eyes on me wherever I went, even inside our trailer, like ants on my skin. 

 

* * *

One day, when lots of folks on our street was outside, I went to see my house. Beside the front door, the National Guard had spray-painted an X with a number one between its lower legs—one body inside. They even wrote dead in attic. My Daddy’s whole life, boiled down to a number and three words. Nothin about what he did for the Ward. Nothin about how he raised me alone. Nothin about the government sittin on its ass while he boiled inside his own skin. I didn’t even know what had happened to his body. It could have still been in there. 

I thought about how folks died like bugs in the Dome and on the Convention Center sidewalk. About the Wolf and all them girls. 

Somethin’s gotta be done, I said. 

I don’t know if I was talkin to Daddy or to God or just to myself. 

 

* * *

Back in our trailer, I told Uncle Romy my plans. He let me finish. Then he said, You crazy? This Wolf, he’s slick. Ain’t nobody even seen him. 

He’s seen me. I can feel it. I’ll draw him out.

Anything happens to you, your Daddy’ll kick my ass right outta heaven. 

I shook my head. If Daddy was here, he wouldn’t sit around and let the Wolf tear up somebody else’s baby. 

Uncle Romy went quiet for a minute. He watched me, not blinkin, clenchin and unclenchin his country-ham-sized fists. The edge in his voice could have cut your throat. That what you think I’m doin? Sittin around? You don’t know shit. I’m out there every day, workin with punk bitches like the Riverside Boys and losin money by the truckload, all to keep you safe. Now you wanna stick your head in the Wolf’s mouth? Hell naw. 

But— 

I said no, girl. Now get up outta my face. I got shit to do. 

He stood up and put lunch on the stove, somethin canned that you could eat from a cereal bowl. New Orleans cookin is the best in the world, but most of the cooks hadn’t come back yet, so it was Campbell’s chicken noodle or Spaghetti-O’s every damn day. We ate and tried to pretend it was good. We didn’t talk no more, but I had already made up my mind.

 

* * *

A couple days later, Uncle Romy headed out in the mid-afternoon. Bags under his eyes, stubble on his cheeks. He put his hands on my shoulders and looked me in the eye. Check it, he said. I got business down by the river. Might not be back before dark. Lock this door when I leave, and don’t open it for nobody but me. Anybody tries to bust in, use this.

He handed me a .22 pistol. It didn’t feel much heavier than a toy. Bet it’ll put a bad hurt on a hummingbird, I said.

 You don’t need nothin bigger than you are. Here’s the safety. Leave it on unless somebody’s kickin the door in. If you gotta shoot, double-tap the bitch in the head. Then you wait on me. You leave this trailer, I’ll cut a switch and beat your ass till it bleeds. You feel me? 

Yes, sir. 

He didn’t smile, but he looked a little less mean. I’m hard because times is hard, he said. Nobody’s comin to help us. Not that Bush motherfucker, not FEMA, not the state, not the Mayor. It’s just us. 

Okay, I said. I got it. Stay here. Don’t open the door. If I have to shoot, aim for the head. 

Naw, he said. Aim for center mass. Blow his fuckin brains out after he falls down. 

Okay.

He looked at me a while longer, like he was tryin to study out my bullshit. But finally, he just nodded and stood up. When he left, I locked the door behind him and watched through the window. He had this little black Ford truck he had found under some overpass and cobbled back together. He got in it and drove away, dodgin all the piles of broken furniture and glass and blown-down trees. The currents had pushed over whole houses, and now all the boards and bricks and pieces of pipe were piled by the curb, waitin for the city to come take it all away. Folks moved their old lives from the foundation to the street and called it progress. I reckon they still wanted to believe that lie about how you just gotta work hard and you can have anything you want. Shit. Folks bust ass every day and still starve. There ain’t no American Dream, not for Ward people. There’s just livin, in spite of the weather and Mike Brown and the Army Corps of Engineers. Uncle Romy was right. We’re alone. 

I sat down at our little table and wrote him a note on the back of an old Burger King bag. 

Dear Uncle Romy, I guess you better cut that switch. Look for me at OCH. I’m sorry. Love you.

I stuck a can of ravioli on top of it. Then I found another bag and packed myself some cheese and crackers and an apple. I didn’t know when I’d get supper. Maybe never. I stuck my sack down in this backpack Uncle Romy brought me from the Goodwill, in case school ever started again. I had already put a couple of other things in there. Then I dug out this old red hoodie I got in Utah and slipped it on.

When I left the trailer, it was maybe three in the afternoon and cold. Two, two and a half hours till dark. The .22 sat beside my note. They say a wolf can smell just about anything. I didn’t want this one smellin trouble. 

 

* * *

I walked to Franklin Avenue and turned south. Folks cleanin their yards watched me a second and went back to their business. Stooped shoulders, bent backs, eyes like bomb victims on the news. One old man said, Girl, get on home to ya Mom and them. Ain’t ya got better sense than to be out here wearin that hood? A few blocks later, this woman tried to drag me inside her trailer. When my husband comes home, we’ll walk with you anyplace you want, she said. Bad time to be on these streets. But I pulled away. She put her hands on her hips and watched me go. Nice people, but I wasn’t lookin for shelter. 

I walked and walked, and then I walked some more, till my legs burned and my feet felt bruised. No sign of the Wolf, and I had covered what seemed like half the Ward. Shit, I thought. Don’t know if I can make it back home, even if nothin happens. 

I had just reached Law Street when I seen the van sittin in some ruined house’s driveway. Plain white, not old or new enough to stand out, driver’s-side door dented in, windows tinted. Might as well have had I Kill Kids painted on the side. 

After I passed it, the engine started up.

I hadn’t got further than North Dorgenois when I heard tires crunchin rocks and dead leaves, always a few yards behind me. When I got to the intersection at Rocheblave, I turned west, not hurryin, even though my heart was poundin. All the way down Franklin I’d seen FEMA trailers in every fourth or fifth yard, with cars or bikes or people sittin nearby. Now I could only see one trailer. Nobody in the yard. Sun was slippin down past the horizon, the buildings castin long, jagged shadows like claws. It looked like a good street for a kidnappin. 

The van turned west with me and sped up. I didn’t even look back, like I wasn’t worried at all. Truth is, my tongue stuck to the roof of my mouth. I couldn’t swallow. I had to take five or six deep breaths and calm down before he realized that I knew what was up. 

Too late to turn back, I thought. If I run, he’s liable to drive right over me. Come on. Don’t pussy out.  

I stopped and pretended like I was tyin my shoe. The van parked right next to me. A window rolled down. 

Hey, baby girl, said the Wolf. His voice was as Cajun as jambalaya.

I looked up. He was white and old, maybe forty-five or fifty. Brown hair gone half-gray, a mustache. A New Orleans Saints ball cap and a pair of reflector sunglasses. He could have been anybody—a Raising Cane’s cook or a weatherman or a preacher. Is that your secret? I thought. Dressin in human skin so can’t nobody see your snout or your teeth?

Hey, I said, like the street wasn’t deserted and he wasn’t some motherfucker who wanted to eat me up. 

You lost, boo? 

I cocked my hip and put my hand on it like I seen women do on TV. Naw, I said. Goin to meet my boyfriend. 

He smiled. Flat teeth, not like a Wolf’s at all. Oooo-ee. That boy lucky, him.

You kind of old to be talkin shit like that.

You kind of young to be talkin it back. You need a ride, you?

I edged closer. I ain’t got but a couple more blocks. 

Up close, he looked all craggy and flaky, like his person mask was dryin in the sun. I couldn’t see his eyes, but I got the idea they might glow in the moonlight, right before he howled and ripped out your guts. 

Cold day, he said. Get in. Warm up a little. 

I looked up and down the street, like I was thinkin about it. Well—

Come on, boo, he said. Save some wear on them feet. 

You better keep your hands to yourself. 

He laughed. I walked around and opened the passenger door and climbed in. He had already rolled up his window. I shut the door behind me. Smelled like bleach in there. I turned and looked in the back. It was empty, no seats or nothin, just this duffel bag and some broke-down boxes laid flat across the bed. 

You like my van? he asked. 

He had leaned in close, like he wanted to kiss me. I backed away. He don’t rape em, I thought. This is just part of his game. No sign of his weapon yet, either. Still, my heart beat in my throat. My stomach fluttered. 

It’s okay, I said. 

Dumb bitch, said Uncle Romy’s voice in my head.You just killed your fool self. 

Can’t let this motherfucker win, I thought. Another big, scary thing to hide from. Another white man diggin black folks’ graves. The 8th Ward might be shit, but it’s ours. It’s mine. Be damned if I let him have it.    

The Wolf didn’t care about none of that, though. He could taste another black girl caught in his teeth. 

I gotta make a stop, he said. Won’t take long.

It sure won’t, I thought. One way or the other.

 

* * *

We parked on the street outside OCH at dusk, no other souls in sight. I wondered if Five-0 might still be sittin on the place, but the Wolf got out and walked toward the front doors, big as life. He wasn’t scared of shit. 

When I didn’t get out, he turned around and waved me on. Come with, he said. Too cold out here. 

I got out, but I stopped in front of the van. Play dumb. Don’t ask why he don’t just leave the engine on and the heater cranked up. Ain’t this the place where they found them girls? I asked. 

Yeah, he said. But you with me. Nobody gonna touch you. 

Why we gotta go inside?

Got a friend in there. I promised to drive him to Kenner tonight. 

If the girl I was pretendin to be had any brains, she would have run like hell. But she had done stepped off the path wearin red, so I hitched my backpack onto my shoulder and started after him. The Wolf grinned. When we reached the front doors, he opened em and stepped inside. 

I took a deep breath and told my heart to slow down. It didn’t listen, but I followed him anyway. 

When the doors closed, the dark swallowed us. The smells of mildew and rot nearly knocked me over. Jesus, I thought, how do people sleep in here?

The Wolf’s footsteps sounded flat and dull as he moved down the hall. Even in that gloom, he was sure-footed. He’d been there before. 

Come on, girl, he said. Down this way. 

I can’t see shit, I called. And it was true. I was walkin blind in the Wolf’s den. 

Just keep to the middle, he said, soundin far away. 

My eyes started to adjust as I shuffled along. Long banks of lockers marched down either side of the hall like I was walkin a tree-lined path in a park. Don’t believe that shit, I told myself. This ain’t no promenade. It’s the wilderness. I moved forward inch by inch, fightin my urge to turn and bust out the front doors and haul ass down the street. Maybe somebody would see me before the Wolf dragged me back. But then he’d just do this to some other girl. Then he’d win.

I kept movin. The Wolf had disappeared. He might have stepped into one of the classrooms or down another hall or into a hole in the world. 

Where are you? I hollered, my voice bouncin back at me.

No answer. I pulled off my backpack and unzipped it. I took out my can of pepper spray. Then I zipped the pack up and put both arms through the straps. When I had it settled on my back, I started walkin again. 

I passed one last classroom and reached the end of the hall, where it branched to the right. I stepped into the new passage. 

The last classroom door banged open, and the Wolf ran at me. 

I screamed and started to raise the can, but he punched me in the jaw. Lights behind my eyes danced and swirled. The can bounced on the floor and rolled away as I collapsed at the Wolf’s feet. 

He lifted and carried me into that room. My jaw throbbed. I cried. 

Hush, now, he said. He sounded almost tender. 

He kicked the door closed and dumped me on the floor. I landed on my tailbone. Lightnin shot up my spine. 

Most of the old desks had been pushed against the back wall. I was sittin on broke-down boxes and spread-open newspapers and pages torn from old magazines. The Wolf walked over to the teacher’s desk and reached underneath it. He pulled out a battery-operated lamp, turned it on, and sat it on the floor near the door. The light hurt my eyes, but after a few seconds, I could see wire hangers on the doorknob. 

The Wolf took off his jacket. He was wearin a dark t-shirt. No sunglasses now. In the low light, his eyes looked hollow and empty, like a skull’s. He smiled again and then went back to the teacher’s desk. He laid his jacket on it and pulled somethin else out from under it. 

It was a butcher’s knife as long as my arm. 

What’s that for? I asked, like I didn’t know.

Better than a pocket knife for cuttin you open, he said. He ran his thumb down the edge and licked his lips. I’ll do you up special, so nobody ever forgets you. 

No, I whispered.

Yeah. You walk around shakin that ass, but you wear that red hood like it’s a big ol’ stoplight and say, No. You can’t touch. Well, I’m gonna touch you like nobody ever has. 

No, I said again, louder this time. 

He moved toward me. I want your goddam heart.

I backed away until I bumped into the desks. I shoved em aside until I reached the wall, and then I pulled em back between us. The legs scraped the floor with a deep honkin sound. 

Come on outta there, boo, he said.

Fuck yourself, I spat. I took off the backpack and dug through it. 

He growled, shoulders hunched, his face in shadow. I couldn’t see nothin but his teeth. They didn’t look flat no more. Then my hand closed on what I was lookin for. I palmed it, lettin it sit against my wrist. And now the Wolf tossed desks aside, clearin a path. Come on, asshole, I thought. And he did, slow and steady, until only one desk and my pack stood between us. 

Get rid of that backpack, he said. You won’t need it anymore. 

I threw the pack aside. 

Good girl, he said. Then he shoved the last desk away and grabbed me by the throat.

I let the switchblade slide down my palm and punched the button. 

The Wolf heard it click. Now that he was closer, I could see his eyes. And what big, shocked, pissed-off eyes he had. 

You bitch, he said.

That’s right, motherfucker, I said. And then I jammed the knife in his belly. 

The Wolf grunted. He stumbled back, one hand on the knife like he was gonna pull it out, the other on a desk. I stepped forward and shoved him with both hands, as hard as I could. He fell on his ass and tumbled onto them boxes and magazines, where he curled around the knife, like it was his cub and needed warmth. I walked over and looked at him. 

Some little girls got sharp teeth, too, I said. 

He made a noise that was half cough and half scream. He spat blood and groaned. Then he looked at me. When he opened his mouth, his teeth were dark red. I’ll kill you slow, he said. 

Mister, I laughed, you can’t even stand up. I walked around him, headin for the door. 

Then his hands closed around my ankle.

He yanked me to the floor. I screamed and kicked at him. He got on top of me and pinned my hands down, the knife wigglin in his belly. Blood poured all over my hoodie and spilled outta his mouth all over my face. I screamed again and shook my head, tryin to clear my eyes. 

Bitch, he whispered. 

He threw one leg over me and sat down on my belly, hard. The breath blew outta me. He let go of my left arm and grabbed my throat again and started squeezin even harder than before. My windpipe caught fire. My lungs ached. Everything went real bright behind my eyes. 

With my free hand, I grabbed my knife and twisted it. 

He shrieked and rolled off me. I kicked him in the face. He whimpered. And I crawled away, gettin to my feet and runnin by the time I reached the door. 

I got it open, but I smacked into somebody else before I got more than a few feet. Somebody tall and solid, like a tree. I bounced off and tried to run, but he grabbed me. He said somethin, but I was beatin on his chest with both hands and tryin to scream. I beat him until my arms gave out. 

And then he hugged me. After a second, he held me at arms’ length. 

You’re grounded for six months, Uncle Romy said. He looked pissed.

I busted into tears. 

Behind him, the hallway was full of Lakefront Knights, Riverside Boys, and Sons of the Saints, all mixed up like a deck of cards. Everybody carried weapons—Glocks, baseball bats, lengths of pipe, knives. Like in one of them old movies where the villagers get their pitchforks and torches and go after the monster. 

You found my note, I whispered. My throat was on fire.

Yeah, he said. I’m about ready to kill you myself. You ever stop to think he might have took you somewhere else?

This is his den. Where else would he go?

Don’t sass me, girl. You got lucky. He still in there? 

Yes, sir. All this blood is his. I had to leave my knife in his guts. 

Uncle Romy stared at that classroom door. I hadn’t ever seen him look so mad, so hard. Never have since, either. 

I’ll get it for you, he said. Wait out here. 

He nudged me up against the lockers and waved the rest of em on.  They flowed around me like water, nobody lookin at me. Uncle Romy opened the door. They filed in. When no more would fit, Uncle Romy followed em and closed the door. The rest stayed in the hall with me, leanin against the walls and the lockers. We stayed out there for a long time. 

The howls that came outta that room didn’t sound human. I still hear em in my dreams. 

 

* * *

We went home that night and washed away the Wolf’s blood. Uncle Romy burned my clothes. He threw the red hoodie on the fire last. And he stayed true to his word. For six months, I didn’t leave the yard. A guard followed me everywhere except the pisser.  

The Ward came back to a kind of half-life. Some schools reopened. Some didn’t. Some folks rebuilt. Some went away and never came back. Life went on. 

Nobody ever found the Wolf. As far as I know, they never even looked. Only those who were there know why, but black girls stopped dyin in the 8th. 

We’re still here, too. These woods are ours. We’re back on the path. And we ain’t scared.  

 

Brett Riley is the Pushcart-nominated author of The Subtle Dance of Impulse and Light (Ink Brush Press). His short fiction has appeared in journals such as The Baltimore Review, Solstice, Folio, The Evansville Review, and many others. His nonfiction has appeared in Role Reboot, Foliate Oak Magazine, Green Hills Literary Lantern, Rougarou, and Wild Violet. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram: @brettwrites. He lives, writes, and teaches in Henderson, Nevada.