The summer swole up like a rotten melon, then Jill found the boys wandering the train tracks.
They were two and we girls were three. Five was a good round number. We together could kill a pack of smokes in an afternoon, drink the whiskey Marlena got with her cousin's ID. No one said their ages. It was summer, so no place could claim us.
The smaller one looked close enough to us. 16, 17. He had a cluster of freckles on his jaw that looked like a single mark when I saw him from far away. Blue eyes. Straight, yellow teeth. He called himself Jimmy.
Allison, you're in love, Jill said.
We were sitting against the trunk of the same tree, watching Jimmy practice back flips with his shirt off. I didn't deny it, but I saw the way Jimmy looked at Marlena.
The bigger one was Sam. He wore long sleeves every day and gathered his greasy hair up like a girl's. He and Jill got to pressing their heads together over the same cigarette. We were three, then five. Then three little sets: two and two, and one.
That was the summer I started wearing my dead grandfather's shirts, started saying certain phrases over in my head because I liked the silent sound of them. The borrowed bicycle. Cerulean sky.
One afternoon we all sat together on the bottom bunk of Jill's bed, ten legs lined up, our backs pressed against the wall. Jimmy sat between me and Marlena. He spread his arms wide like they were seatbelts and he was buckling us in. We passed a joint back and forth and then Jill's little sister came in and glared, and we all started laughing. Jill's sister was a show and we were the audience lined up in a row. Bunk bed as proscenium arch.
Marlena stole concealer from the pharmacy to cover up a purple hickey. I dotted it on my lips to make my mouth disappear.
We didn't know where the boys came from or where they lived. Jill found them and then they found us every day after that, at Jill's house or by the tracks. Behind the gas station where we bought vanilla cappuccinos and snacks. Sometimes they were dirty and always they looked tired. We bought them glistening hot dogs and messy sandwiches wrapped in plastic. I watched Jimmy eat and wouldn't look away when he caught me. I dreamt of Jimmy often, but never anything nice. He would turn from a boy into a lion. He would swim naked and get caught in a trap down in the dark sea.
Marlena's cousin found out about a field party, and she drove us out there and bought us a case of beer and we gave her fifty dollars.
Marlena wore a studded dog collar. Jill and I cut shorts from our 7th grade jeans. There were woods before the field and we walked through the dark together. Our faces were white moons cratered with little dots of concealer.
We linked our bare arms and giggled. Marlena shaved her whole body and sometimes her skin felt prickly, but tonight she was all smooth lotion, all berry gum breath. Our right to bear arms. Jill bumped her matching hip against mine and sang the song we all knew from summer camp three years ago, the only time we'd all three gone.
We're going on a lion hunt, Jill sang.
I imagined Jimmy in his little trap. I imagined looking at him through the bars.
We left the woods and saw the big bonfire. The cars parked in the dark, their mud spattered tires.
I squatted and unzipped my bag. We girls bent and took a can of beer each from the sweating, cardboard case. They foamed up good and cold when we cracked them open, but Jill still grimaced when she took a taste.
She's always thinking, Marlena said. Our little Allie.
We walked towards the fire. The light painted everyone in Halloween colors: orange and black, shining glints of white. It was dark and hot out and the field smelled freshly cut. Music played from one of the cars but I didn't know what song it was.
I wanted to link arms again with Jill and Marlena; I wanted to sing out loud. The wanting was because I loved them, loved us together, we girls, just three again like before.
We all kept our eyes moving in the dark. They would be here, somewhere. Jimmy had come with a guitar once. He'd sung to us in a sweet, high voice while Sam drummed his scabbed kneecaps with the palms of his hands. More than words, Jimmy sang, and I'd wanted to ask him how anything could ever be more than that.
Laughter burst from the darkness like a deer running out of the woods. I grabbed Marlena's hand.
Stop, she said.
Oh shit, Jill said. Look.
It was them, our boys, but all we saw at first were the hooks.
There were hooks in their bodies. Sam and Jimmy were shirtless, their pale skin streaked with dirt. The hooks were attached to long metal chains that pulled taut, then loose, as Sam and Jimmy stepped forward, then stopped. The chains were attached to a crude wooden platform on wheels with a girl sitting on top. A girl in a bra with tattoos on her stomach and piercings in her face. An ugly girl. A woman. They were pulling her with their hooks, their chains. She had a long whip and she stroked it like a snake.
The skin of Jimmy's back rose up in two peaks like meringue, rose up like two little skin volcanos. Dried blood eruption. Hooks. Two in Jimmy's back, three in each of Sam's arms. The hooks curved in and then out of our boys. Sam was grinning. No, roaring. His teeth were bared, his long hair loose and wild and we couldn't hear him over the laughter and shouting all around us. Girls and boys were coming closer, pushing to get a looka that. Jimmy held an old-fashioned hat filled with dollar bills. He looked towards the fire, away from where the crowd had grown. He looked like someone I'd never known.
Marlena was bent over at the waist, retching into the grass.
Jill stood straight, her arms crossed across her chest. Look, she said again, as if I could do anything else.
Above us, the stars clumped together, shone a singular light.
Jill followed the crowd, the sound of the clinking chains and the howls.
Marlena, I said.
She shook her head and sank into the grass. She was like a warm stone: tight, compact.
I placed my hands, and then my whole body on her back. I heard her muffle something low down into the ground. I pulled Marlena by the shoulders. She left me lift her top half and hold her like that, like she was drowning and I was carrying her to shore.
We were two again. The crowd had flowed down to the fire. We were still so close to the edge of the woods.
I held Marlena up until my arms started to shake.
It wasn't them, I said. Those weren't our boys. It was a stupid, small thing to say, but Marlena looked at me like it was true. I let her go.
She pushed her palms into the dirt and sat up. No, she said. They weren't.
Marlena started at the Catholic girls' school where her cousins all went. I skipped to 10th. I saw Jill sometimes in the cafeteria that fall. Once I saw her talking to a small, rapt crowd. Cafeteria in the round. Her hair was down, her eyes alert. Her bent fingers clawed through the air. Jill grabbed the back of a blonde girl's shirt and held the fabric in two stiff points.
I walked closer, close enough to hear.
Does it hurt? asked the blonde.
Jill looked up when I walked her way. She held my eye and she held the girl's shirt.
Jill pushed the girl away. What doesn't? she said.
BIO: Caitlin Corrigan received her MFA from Rutgers - Newark in 2014. Her fiction has appeared in Word Riot, Literary Orphans, NANO Fiction, the Tin House "Flash Fridays" feature, and elsewhere, She regularly reviews books and literary journals for Necessary Fiction and The Review Review. Reach her at www.caitlincorrigan.com or on Twitter @corrigancait.