by Joseph S. Pete
After the scavenger hunt in the woods, Carl drove into the ditch without even realizing he was veering off the road.
He hadn’t had much experience driving, especially on backroads, and could not process the curve up ahead in the pitch black in time.
Suddenly, the car was inverted, sunken into the thick of the shrubbery. The sinewy noodle-armed teen tried to push it out, and it nearly lurched free and crushed him. Or it barely budged. It was hard to say.
He ran off, fearing his dad would just smack him around some more, until he was so bruised and bloodied it would hurt just to lay down. He slept in the woods for a night, and then for another night. He started living in the woods, drinking the clear water from a creek and foraging for mushrooms.
They thought he was dead. They all thought he was dead.
His high school held a candlelight vigil as the rain poured down one night. A series of tearful speakers recounted how he leg-swept his friends, tormented his siblings until they left his room, and SnapChatted everyone pictures of dog turds.
His prepubescent middle-school brother recalled in a squeaky, unsure voice how Carl once shot his father in the leg with a shotgun, recounting it as though it were just a funny story.
“Sorry, that’s kind of random,” he said. “I’m just kind of random.”
Kids periodically burst into sobs during the vigil, which continued despite the dour downpour. The bearded bartender from across the street turned to the nearest person, who happened to be Carl attending his own candlelight vigil incognito.
“This kid’s kind of a shitbag, isn’t he?”
“He was,” Carl said, rethinking everything in a cement shoes epiphany. “He was.”