She held her skirt up like she was about to curtsy, trying to keep the edges of it from getting muddy. The tall grass scraped her legs. It swished and snapped under their feet like dry waves. He tilted his head back, howled, chugged at the strawberry wine.
“How can you drink this?” He said. He wiped his mouth and pulled a pint of Jack from his back pocket.
“Give me my wine.” She took a long swig. “It tastes better on me.” She giggled.
“Does it? Really?” He grabbed her around the waist, swung her around, kissed her deep. Someone howled from the trees. “Who do you think it is?” He laughed.
“I bet its Willie and Slim. What do you want to bet?” She chewed on her bottom lip, a habit she’d picked up when she’d worn braces in junior high and hadn’t grown out of. “I’ll bet, that you can get me in the back seat, all to ourselves, if it’s them.”
“One of them can drive us home? You gonna take your shirt all the way off this time?” He pulled at where she had her shirt tied in a knot about her belly-button. She frowned. “I’m teasing. I would never let them see you.” He said.
“Why dontcha just do it right there! Holy shit, you two are pathetic.” Willie took giant steps through the grass, trying to raise his legs high enough to step over the tops of it, a bottle of Jim Beam pressed vertical to his lips.
A long scream spilled through the space between them. It sounded female. Then the quiet was too quiet.
“You guys?” Slim said. Willie was already shaking his head ‘no’ before he could finish the question.
“There’s nobody with us.” Gary said.
“I don’t like this.” Penny clung to Gary’s neck, his arm around her waist.
“It’s gotta be somebody we know, right?” Slim took the Jim Bean from Willie. “Right?”
“Let’s go see!” Gary started for the trees.
“No! Gary, please, no. Please take me home, please. I don’t want to go out there. Let’s don’t go out there.” Penny said. She made her eyes extra big at him. Another scream split the clearing at the edge of the trees.
“This is creeping me out.” Slim looked around. It was fading daylight where they were standing next to the water. It was where the grass waved and faded into the tree line that it was already dark as pitch.
“Yeah, man, let’s go. You can’t see shit out there anyway. We parked next to you guys. We’ll race you back to town.” Willie tugged at the bottle again.
“Hey! I said, Hey, out there! Come on out and show yourself!” Gary yelled.
“Yeah! Come on out, ya chicken shits!” Willie called out too.
“Man, that’s balls.” Slim said.
Something moved in and around past their legs in the grass like a snake in the water. They took off running, dropping the bottles into the rustling, unmowed, surf. Gary held Penny’s hand so tightly that he fell with her when her skirt got wrapped around her legs. He put his hand over her mouth so she wouldn’t scream. Slim was screaming. A sound like a branch cracking came from somewhere in front of them. Slim started shouting, “My arm! My arm!”
“Ssshhh.” Gary whispered in her ear. He slipped his pocket knife out, opening it with one hand. Something grabbed her foot.
“Nooo.” She cried. Gary hung onto her.
“Gotcha!” Jimmy Gentry hooted and hollered. “You guys can come back out!” He said.
“Jimmy, I hate you.” Penny said, mad tears streaming down her cheeks.
“Are you all right?” Gary looked her over. “I ought to kick your ass, Jimmy.”
“Ah, you’re so bullshit. Couple of fraidy-cats. There ain’t nothing out here but me and my dog and those knuckleheads you call friends.” Jimmy reached out and shoved Gary’s shoulder.
“When we get back to town, your ass is mine. Don’t you forget it, man. Come on, Penny.” Gary took Penny by the hand and started for the canal, where they always parked the cars on the levee.
“Hey, man! Sorry!” Willie stood up in the grass, laughing. Gary ignored him. “Hey, seriously, man, I need a ride back in. Slim has to pick up his sister at the DQ.” Willie scrambled to catch up with them.
Gary didn’t tell him yes, or no, didn’t stop him from getting into the backseat. Penny locked her door. She pulled he knees up to her chest under her skirt, still shaking. Gary started the car. The headlights kicked on, illuminating the gravel road. Jimmy Gentry stood about ten feet in front of the car, what looked like a machete stuck deep into his shoulder. His head flopped too far in the other direction, looking like it was hanging there by the skin.
“Oh, my God, oh my God. Oh, my God.” Penny chanted through her fingers.
“Just go, man. Just go. GO!” Willie pounded on the back of the seat.
“There’s no way around him.” The road was too narrow, on either side there was water. “There’s nowhere to go.” Gary pushed in the clutch, dropped it into gear and floored it.
Penny never stopped screaming.
Teri Skultety, 2012