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by Ayla Marsden

There was a rotting corpse behind the Payless Shoe Source. I think before it was a rotting corpse it was a bird, but everything had gone dry and sharp in the heat, and I couldn’t say for sure. A dog was chained to a post a few feet away, and when it bared its teeth and snarled, I knew it had seen the corpse, too. It was the kind of dog that lives its whole life behind a chain link fence getting yelled at by a guy with protruding chest bones and prison tattoos. All of this made me think of last month when Crystal’s older brother invited us down to the basement where he sleeps and showed us a movie where people were getting tortured, though it was never quite clear to me why. Crystal covered her eyes whenever there was blood, which was always, so she spent the whole movie hiding behind her hands and her neon green fingernails. I spent most of the movie looking at Crystal’s older brother out of the corner of my eye, thinking how the red light from the tv made his acne scarred cheeks look like the surface of mars.

My dad is the kind of guy that would live behind a chain link fence with a mean dog, except he has no prison tattoos, and my sister is scared of dogs. My sister is scared of everything besides her tv shows where girls with huge gaping eyes go up in a flash of light as if they were being dragged into heaven, but instead they just come out with wings or weapons or different hair. I am a lot like these girls in that I have a secret power, and my secret power is that sometimes I can see the future. I knew that there was going to be a dead bird behind the Payless Shoe Source, and not because I smelled it before I turned the corner. I knew because I had dreamed of it, seen it fly over me with a halo of barbed wire and stared up into its body and saw its whole soul, and I knew that soul would fester on a sidewalk in the bright burning center of America. I had woken up with sweaty palms.

I traced my pink sneaker through a pool of bright blue slushie that someone had poured onto the concrete next to the bird. It had gelled itself into the sidewalk and clung like glue to the side of my shoe. Later, I will wash my sneakers in the backyard with a hose like I am cleaning up a crime scene, the palms of my hand’s neon and sticky. Fireflies will hover above the dead, yellowing lawn, and the sky will turn soft and kiss the edges of our roof. That night, I will sleep with one hand under my pillow, palm cupping the part of the worn cotton where baby teeth used to go. When I dream, I will dream about a girl who has grown wings – when the morning light hits her face, I think it could almost look like my own.

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