The Ribbon Tree - Excerpt

Navin stood up and slid a hand into the pocket of his jeans, brushing the strange object with his fingers. He’d been thinking of ways to get rid of it and finally settled on a course of action. As he started down the driveway, Hao gave him a questioning look and followed alongside.

“We going somewhere?”

“Yeah, to the fence,” Navin said.

“You’re not climbing over again, are you?”

“Heck, no. Never climbing that stupid fence ever again.”

Hao seemed to accept this, and Navin started down the narrow lane toward the back of the trailer park. As he did, he spotted the back end of Teddy Moyer’s LTD—one of the turn signal lights was cracked—and it brought back everything from the night before. He had to stop for a moment and clutch his sour belly.

“What’s up?” Hao said.

“Nothing. Don’t feel so good.”

“Why?”

Instead of answering, Navin resumed walking. But as he approached the LTD, an imposing figure stepped into view. Sunlight glinted off the shiny little spikes of hair on top of his head. The leather jacket hung heavy from his shoulders, and his faded jeans were full of holes, neat little incisions running in parallel lines from the hem all the way to his thighs. The skin beneath was as pale as mashed potatoes. Teddy wore a black t-shirt with a red skull on it, the angry skull color matching the red of his mountainous acne.

Navin, assuming it was merely a coincidental passing, kept on going, but Teddy moved to block him. He planted his hand in the center of Navin’s chest and shoved him backward. Navin gasped in surprise and fell onto his rump.

“Leave us alone,” Hao said, standing his ground. “I’ll tell my dad.”

“Your dad ain’t nothing to me,” Teddy said. “But if you want, I’ll give you something to tell him.”

He took a single step toward Hao, and that was all it took. Hao spun around and ran. Navin heard about six steps, however, before Hao tripped and fell, landing on the street with a thump and cry. Teddy laughed—he had an obnoxious, nasally laugh—and squatted down in front of Navin.

“You were spying on me last night,” he said. “Why? What did you see?”

“I wasn’t spying on you,” Navin said.

“Look, kid, I saw you poke your head out of your bedroom window. What did you see?”

“Nothing. I barely looked at you.”

“But you heard something, didn’t you?”

Navin shook his head.

“Then why did you open your window? What were you doing?”

“I was just…I was just trying to throw a bug outside,” Navin said.

“Or maybe you were trying to run away from home,” Teddy said. “I wouldn’t blame you. Your mom is a big fat loser, a disgusting whale. Look, stupid, I don’t like people checking up on me. Got it? There’s no reason for you to look at me. Ever. Is that clear?”

“Yes,” Navin said. His foggy brain only dampened the dread a little bit. Navin felt like he was on the verge of throwing up. “Whatever you want.”

Teddy stuck a finger in his face. Navin noted numerous scabs and old scars on his knuckles.

“Kid, you don’t know me,” Teddy said. “Keep it that way. Don’t look at me. Don’t get in my way. Be invisible when I’m around. Can you do that?”

“Yes.”

“Good. Then you live. For now.”

Teddy sniffed, cracked his knuckles, and rose. He gave Navin one last menacing look then stomped off around the corner and disappeared into his trailer with the slam of a flimsy door. Navin waited a second longer before picking himself up and brushing off the seat of his pants.

“Dude, I thought we were dead meat.” Hao reappeared, grinning sheepishly.

“Where did you go?”

“I was gonna go get my dad,” Hao said. “What did you expect me to do? Fight him? No way.”

“Yeah, I get it.”

Navin hurried past Teddy’s trailer and approached the fence. He was completely frazzled now, all of his nerves on edge, and he only wanted to crawl back into bed and hide under his pillow. But his bedroom wasn’t safe. No place seemed safe at the moment.

“Dude, were you really spying on him in the middle of the night?” Hao asked.

“Of course not. I just happened to open my window while he was outside smoking. It was totally an accident.”

“Why did you open your window in the middle of the night? Is your air conditioner broken again?”

“No. I mean, yes, the air conditioner is broken, but that’s not why I did it.”

Navin stepped past the basketball goal and reached into his pocket. In a fit of boldness, he drew out the strange object and held up it for Hao to see.

“It was because of this,” he said.

Hao glanced at it and shrugged. “What’s that? Some kind of weird rock?”

“I don’t know, but it’s bad luck.”

“Bad luck? Why?”

“It just is, and I’m getting rid of it.”

 

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© Jeffrey Miller