I pass my hand over the seat. It’s dry. Then I get out of the car and do a walk-around as best I can in the dark, looking for scratches. The tire tread is still smoking and melted. I can hear Mr. Dean’s teeth grinding. I’m leaving town in three days, and now I’ll be spending at least one of them putting on a new set of Goodyears. Come to think of it, maybe I shouldn’t take the car back until the new tires are on.
It’s after midnight when I park the Rally Sport in our driveway. Mr. Dean’s probably still up, wiry and full of black coffee as he is, watching me cruise carefully down the street. But he doesn’t expect the car back until morning. If I get up early enough, I can take it down to the shop and replace the tires before he knows any different.
As the headlights cut through the yard and splash onto the face of the house, I see two green dots: the eyes of my mom’s cat. When I get to the front door, it’s gone from the window. It’ll tell her that I’m home. Tybalt is the cat’s name. It’s an unruly thing, and it doesn’t much care for me. I don’t care much for it either. It has a weird habit of pulling all the hair off its tail, leaving little tufts of black all over the house. But my mom likes to have a cat around. Like most children, they can see and hear things that are already dead. A handy trick, when you live with us.
I go inside, take my shoes off, and climb the stairs by two. I’m dying for a shower—want to get that mossy, rotten feeling off my wrist and shoulder. And I want to check my dad’s athame and rinse off whatever black stuff might be on the edge.
At the top of the stairs, I stumble against a box and say, “Shit!” a little too loudly. I should know better. My life is lived in a maze of packed boxes. My mom and I are professional packers; we don’t mess around with castoff cardboard from the grocery or liquor stores. We have high-grade, industrial-strength, reinforced boxes with permanent labels. Even in the dark I can see that I just tripped over the Kitchen Utensils (2).
I tiptoe into the bathroom and pull my knife out of my leather backpack. After I finished off the hitchhiker I wrapped it up in a black velvet cloth, but not neatly. I was in a hurry. I didn’t want to be on the road anymore, or anywhere near the bridge. Seeing the hitchhiker disintegrate didn’t scare me. I’ve seen worse. But it isn’t the kind of thing you get used to.
I look up into the mirror and see the sleepy reflection of my mom, holding the black cat in her arms. I put the athame down on the counter.
“Hey, Mom. Sorry to wake you.”
“You know I like to be up when you come in anyway. You should always wake me, so I can sleep.”
I don’t tell her how dumb that sounds; I just turn on the faucet and start to run the blade under the cold water.
“I’ll do it,” she says, and touches my arm. Then of course she grabs my wrist, because she can see the bruises that are starting to purple up all along my forearm.
I expect her to say something motherly; I expect her to quack around like a worried duck for a few minutes and go to the kitchen to get ice and a wet towel, even though the bruises are by no means the worst mark I’ve ever gotten. But this time she doesn’t. Maybe because it’s late, and she’s tired. Or maybe because after three years she’s finally starting to figure out that I’m not going to quit.
“Give it to me,” she says, and I do, because I’ve gotten the worst of the black stuff off already. She takes it and leaves. I know that she’s off to do what she does every time, which is to boil the blade and then stab it into a big jar of salt, where it will sit under the light of the moon for three days. When she takes it out she’ll wipe it down with cinnamon oil and call it good as new.
She used to do the same thing for my dad. He’d come home from killing something that was already dead and she’d kiss him on the cheek and take away the athame, as casually as any wife might carry in a briefcase. He and I used to stare at the thing while it sat in its jar of salt, our arms crossed over our chests, conveying to each other that we both thought it was ridiculous. It always seemed to me like an exercise in make-believe. Like it was Excalibur in the rock.
But my dad let her do it. He knew what he was getting into when he met and married her, a pretty, auburn-haired Wiccan girl with a strand of white flowers braided around her neck. He’d lied back then and called himself Wiccan too, for lack of a better word. But really, Dad wasn’t much of anything.
He just loved the legends. He loved a good story, tales about the world that made it seem cooler than it really was. He went crazy over Greek mythology, which is where I got my name.