your mom had a set of redcanisters, one for flour, one forsugar, one for coffee, and anotherfor tea but she didn’t keep tea in it.the…
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I didn’t want to go along with the snipe hunt in the first place, and after we were home, safe in the Jacksons’ finished basement with Andy still out there, my stomach knew. I spent the rest of the night with gurgles and strange squeaks, back and forth from my sleeping bag to the bathroom. My stomach was smarter than the rest of us.
“He’ll be fine,” the Jackson brothers told me. “There ain’t nothing out there that can eat him. He’ll wander around, crying for his mama, and tomorrow his mama’ll go find him.”
But his mama didn’t find him. The snipes did.
* * *
The search party lasted for a week. They drained a pond, had dogs all over the place. We joined in, of course, because the Jackson boys thought it was hilarious—at first. Eventually, though, when Andy Reynolds’ face was plastered on missing posters all over town and even the cadaver dogs couldn’t find him, it stopped being all kinds of funny. My stomach got so bad I had to go to a doctor.
* * *
A decade later, the Jackson brothers disappeared. The only thing left was the twisted wreck of Toby Jackson’s car, found in the oddest place—about three miles into the woods between Fletcher’s Mill and the Moffat Mine Road. “What on earth was them boys doing?” my dad pondered aloud at the breakfast table. “It’s almost as if God picked that car up, crumbled it like paper, and tossed it in the woods.” I took my antacid and headed off to work.
* * *
I knew who he was as soon as he walked in, not because he looked the same, but because I had been expecting him. My stomach knew vengeance was coming.
Andy Reynolds sat in the back corner of Mary Lou’s diner, studying the menu. If it’s possible to exude self-assurance in the way one reads a menu, Andy was doing it.
I stepped up beside the table. “Are you ready to order?”
He looked at me. “Aren’t you going to ask?”
“I just did.”
“No, about the snipes.”
“Snipes aren’t real.”
“Sure, they are. And I found them—or, rather, they found me.”
“I’m sorry,” I whispered. “You have no idea how sorry I am.”
He smiled a broken glass kind of smile, all sharp edges. “They made me king.” He held up his right hand, letting the menu drop to the table. A lumpy gold ring glinted from his index finger. “King of the Snipes.”
“Does your mother know you’re…okay?”
He folded his hands on his menu. “Am I okay?”
I shrugged. “Are you?”
“You’re not listening. I’m King of the Snipes.”
“Yes, Andy. You’re King of the Snipes.” I wanted another antacid.
He studied me. “You always were a coward.”
It was true.
“I’ll take a bowl of chili and a grilled cheese sandwich. Diet Coke.” He handed me the menu.
I took his order back to the kitchen, told the manager I was sick, and went home.
I never saw Andy Reynolds again.
* * *
The first time I saw a snipe was three days later. It wasn’t a real snipe—the bird, I mean—it was a made-up, you’re-going-crazy, how-does-your-stomach-like-that kind of creature, a furry reptile with feathers around its neck and eyes that know things humans have never even considered. That kind of snipe.
Always just a glimpse, usually from the corner of my eye. Sometimes in dreams. On roadways, in supermarkets, on first dates. There are always snipes.
They hide in my refrigerator, among my neckties, in the glove compartment of my car.
I have never told anyone. I have never told anyone any of it—not about Andy, not the Jackson brothers, not that night.
Because Andy was right—I am a coward.
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