“I’m going to kill you.”
Curtis, didn’t sound like he was joking. He had a habit of trying to sound serious when he wasn’t, but his tone and the seriousness of his threat made me nervous anyway. I stopped walking and turned to look at him in the moonlight. His eyes were bright white against his dark skin. I hoped for the familiar flash of teeth to indicate he was playing, but it didn’t come. Instead, he just looked kind of creepy and sinister.
I’d been alone with Curtis plenty of times, even after dark on a few occasions during winter months when the days were short. I really had no reason to fear him. He had a horrible crush on me, and he even kept that to himself. I really liked him too and it kind of made me mad he never tried to kiss me or anything. Daddy wasn’t tolerant of colored folks, so I probably wouldn’t have pushed it even if I liked him more, but still a kiss would have been nice.
Anyway, Curtis didn’t say he was going to kiss me. He said he was going to kill me.
“I don’t think you’re funny at all, Curtis,” I said.
“You know that’s the way it has to be,” he replied icily. “It’s our destiny.” The complete lack of expression on his face was more than a little bit eerie. “There’s nothing funny about destiny,” he added. “Come on.” He turned and started walking across the lawn again. I followed him with the nagging feeling that I really was following destiny.
We were cutting across the Great Falls High School lawn where we had both graduated a few months earlier. The Chemistry lab was just up to our left. I remembered with some amusement as we passed, the “accident” that had cleared everyone out of the building for two days during our sophomore year. Everyone suspected Jeff did it intentionally; spilled a mixture of acids that caused a gag reaction so bad that several students vomited as they hastily evacuated the lab. The fire department had to come in with respirators to clean it up and class was canceled for two days after. Jeff never confessed, but it happened the day before a big test I knew he hadn’t studied for.
Curtis was peeking in the windows of each classroom as we passed alongside the building, but nothing really seemed to interest him. The friend I was used to would never think of anything crazy like breaking into the school at night, but I was worried about this Curtis. Who knew what he was up to? I wondered what he would do if I just turned and ran away. Something inside couldn’t let him know how much he was scaring me. I began to lag further and further behind.
“You can’t kill me. I’m supposed to babysit Rachel tomorrow.” I tried to sound funny in an air of mock relief, but my voice cracked when I said it.
“Don’t worry,” he said. “Her family won’t need a sitter when they hear the news.”
Suddenly, I was really scared. Something was truly wrong with my friend and I didn’t like it at all. I stopped walking again. I could only mask my fear behind comedy. “Maybe we should just get this over with here and now then, varmint,” I growled in my deepest voice. I fashioned my fingers into a gun and held it at my hip. “Draw!”
Curtis turned around and started laughing at me. “Who the hell are you? Annie Oakley?”
“Say you’re prayers, Rabbit,” I commanded, ignoring the reference. I used to hate it when people called me Annie Oakley until I learned doing a book report that she went by her middle name too. Annie liked to shoot a .22 caliber rifle, not a finger pistol.
Curtis put his hands on his hips with an exasperated look. That was close enough for me. I drew my fingers and blasted him one. He didn’t move. I blew the smoke from my fingertips and holstered my weapon.
“I guess you can’t kill me now, you’re already dead,” I informed him smugly.
He seemed to swell inside his clothes as he stared back menacingly at me. His shoulders grew broader and he stood a little taller. Maybe it was just the moonlight, or maybe it was just my nerves. Slowly, he walked over to me, closer and closer, until his face was so close he could have given me the kiss I deserved. But his mouth passed by mine and he whispered in my ear instead.
“You can’t change destiny, Annie” he whispered.
It sent chills through my body. I couldn’t believe Curtis would ever hurt me. At times he had even protected me.
“You better stop it, Curtis,” I snapped at him. “Or you and destiny can go get with yourselves.”
Without a word, he turned and started walking again. I knew we were headed for the Ferris Tallow plant, but Curtis never said why. I couldn’t imagine what was going to be so interesting there, and the place smelled worse than Jeff’s Chemistry accident. Half of me wanted to turn around and go home, but if Curtis was having fun trying to scare me, I couldn’t let him know it was working. I trotted after him to catch up.
There’s a hole in the fence at the back of the school grounds that cuts into the tallow plant’s property. Kids have been using it as a shortcut to and from school for years. Curtis stopped and waited for me. The smell of carcass was already thickening in the air.
“Why do you want to go to Ferris anyway?” I asked again.
He held his head to one side like he was tired of answering the same old question. “That’s where you die, Annie.” He shook his head.
I hit him. “I’m serious, Curtis! You better knock it off!”
I stepped through the hole in the fence and he followed me through. We turned off the trail worn by students’ feet and scampered through the dark across the grass lot to the back of the plant. Curtis seemed to know his way. He led me up around the back of the shipping office to a door in the big round room next to the towers. “Authorized Personnel Only” the sign said in big red and white letters, and there was a big metal latch locking it shut.
Curtis pulled something out of his pocket and held it up to the latch. A pin pushed out easily, the door was unlocked, and he carefully pulled at it, as if he half-expected an alarm. My heart was pounding! We were breaking into the tallow factory!
“Curtis!” I whispered.
Curtis put his finger to his lips and then slowly pulled the door open. The foul stench of the carcasses shipped in every day for processing was replaced by the almost-friendly smell of chlorine. The day was long done. There was almost no one in the plant, the night crew only there to clean and disinfect. We tip-toed through the door and onto a balcony overlooking the round room below. A large grinder opened up in front of us that emptied onto a conveyor belt below.
Two ladies working down on the floor were all dressed in white with blue gloves and hair nets. They were chattering to each other in Spanish and I overheard something about “la escuela.” I leaned quietly over the handrail to get a good look at the room. You couldn’t pay me enough to work in a place like this with all the foul smells, but the machinery in the cutting room was fascinating. Here they separated the different parts of the carcasses for rendering. The fats would become tallow, and the bones and other parts would become meal or pet foods or whatever.
Curtis walked past the grinder and opened a door on the other side to peek in. He closed it again in disinterest. The echo of the latch caught the attention of the two workers.
“Hey! You kids aren’t supposed to be up there!” one of them yelled.
The switch to the grinder hung in a yellow box on the end of yellow, plastic-coated conduit that extended down from the ceiling. Bold green and red buttons clearly indicated their purpose. Curtis pushed the green one and the grinder roared to life. He shoved me in the direction of the grinder. There was a horrible, shrill sound of blades against raw bone. Blood and ground flesh poured out of the bottom and the two ladies began screaming like the world was coming to an end.
I went numb. I turned to look for Curtis, but he was gone. Panic pounded at my chest. I didn’t know what to do so I ran. Back across the lot, through the fence and onto the high school grounds as fast as I could run. The motor from the grinder shut down again behind me and the plant’s floodlights suddenly lit the lot, the glow spreading all around me.
Fear gripped me like the hands of Death itself. What had happened? Had Curtis really tried to kill me? I began to cry. The only explanation I could reach was that he had, and that he had somehow fallen into the grinder himself. I followed the shadows back across the campus, crying in disbelief. I stopped at the spot where I’d challenged my friend to a duel and stood there to let the tears fall.
Suddenly, someone grabbed me from behind and tackled me to the ground. I screamed, and struggled to pulled away, sure that I had been caught and I would be on my way to jail now. No matter how I struggled, I couldn’t get away. Finally, I managed to roll over. Curtis’ face hovered above me.
“I told you you can’t change destiny, Annie,” he said.
I blinked at him in rage, but my rage faded to confusion, as his face began to dissolve away before my eyes. Bright lights blinded me through the black night… flashlights?
“Annie, are you awake?”
© 2011 Anne Schilde