JUNIOR WENT FIRST - PETE RISLEY
Back down in Lyleton when we were kids, I used to tag along after my brother Sandy a lot. He was a year older than me, and was always running around with his best friend Bill Bonner, and for one summer, with Billy's cousin Junior Coe along too. I’d go places with them sometimes, when they’d let me.
I was in second grade then, and Sandy and Bill were in third. Junior was in fourth grade, held back once, but in a different school across the tracks, plus he was pretty close to eleven. Sometimes he'd say he was already eleven and almost twelve, but he was just bragging like usual.
Junior always had to try and act big, and say he'd already done stuff, already hopped a train or seen a shrunken head somewhere or put his hand up some girl's skirt on the bus or whatever. Sometimes it would be true, but he just made a lot of stuff up, I think.
He always wanted to climb stuff, so we always had to do that. At first it was just trees, but he'd always have to climb up higher, if it was possible to do so. I wouldn't want to climb as high as him, especially up into the skinny branches that might not hold your weight, but I think sometimes Billy and Sandy would just let him climb the highest to be done with it, when they could have climbed that high too. He wasn’t satisfied unless he was first all the time.
After that it was rooftops, usually the roofs of abandoned houses, which we had more than a few of there once the radiator plant closed and people started moving away. I'd climb up too, but I was chicken to run on rooftops. One time Junior noticed me walking real careful and slow, said “we can cure him of that,” and got Sandy and Bill to pick me up by the arms and legs and swing me back and forth like they were going to throw me off the roof. I didn’t cry, but got down off the rooftop right away when they quit. I never wanted to get on another one. And in fact, that was the last one for a long while.
Soon after that, Junior wanted to climb more rooftops one day when it was raining a little but not that much, and they tried to climb on this one tin-roofed house out there way off the road. I didn't try. It was way too slippery, so both Billy and my brother gave up and climbed down.
“You guys are all such babies,” said Junior, and bounded across the roof, trying to stop and sliding toward some wires overhead that were attached to a pole. He grabbed the wires and then he did stop, and after that just held there real still. There was something weird about it, that stillness all the sudden, and it was even weirder the way he didn’t immediately start bragging and taunting us. In fact, he didn’t say anything at all, just stood there on the roof holding the wire.
“OK, you done it, Junior, c’mon down,” Billy said. But Junior didn’t answer, or even look around. He didn’t move either, just stood there on the roof holding the wire, like he was looking at something off in the distance that was so fascinating he couldn’t be bothered with anything.
We stood there calling to him for what seemed like a long time and he never turned around. It’s a good thing they didn’t try to climb up again after him. I guess they didn’t because, in a way, we knew. Sort of knew. Though it wasn’t until we went home and told Mom, and she started to wail and called Dad, and everything else happened, that we knew completely.
So Junior was first again, for the last time. But he never did get out of the fourth grade.
BIO: Pete Risley is the author of the novel RABID CHILD, published by New Pulp Press in July 2010. Check it out at 'Rabid Child' by Pete Risley—New Pulp Press. He lives in Columbus, Ohio.