Michael Cocchiarale
All I Am Is Nine

In the dead grass by the street was a hole with broken pipes and water. Small soldiers on the lump of dirt the men scooped out were climbing down to kill.

Get away, mom said from the porch. You're too close to the road. Something bad will happen.

Her arms were crossed. She looked like something bad already happened, like how she mostly looked before dad would say, you take your pills? He'd put his hands up on his head and say, What we throwing money down the drain for if you're not?

Now, she said, slapping her gown. It looked like a sheet they pull over bodies on the local news.

I marched my soldiers down the hill. They were closer to the enemies. Dirt and pebbles crumbled down on plastic houses. People eyes looked out the windows, watching all the scary holes of the guns.

A big loud car made me look up at the street. I saw a flashing bumper, and a long black cat creeping. The cat froze. My mother screamed. The loud car drove over it, and, like magic, the cat came out again. But mom's scream kept going down the stairs and through my ears, and the cat started hopping like a frog or kangaroo. He looked at me with huge green forced out eyes.

Then the cat started coughing, like there was something in his throat and it turned out to be blood — blood and whatever else is red like guts. He laid down, jerked like a puppet, then just like that he didn't move at all. The mouth stayed open, like mom when the phone rang at night and she jumped up, holding her hands together and saying, that's bad news, I just know it. The scream was gone and so was mom. My soldiers stood on the hill, their guns ready to shoot. They were waiting for me to say the word. The people in the houses were waiting to die.

The Darden twins came running. Andy clapped his hands and said, cool man look at that!

I ran inside the house and called mom's name again and again. The sun suddenly went away and the living room was like a turned off TV screen.

She was in the backroom with no windows. She was rocking in her broken chair, eyes running out of her face. Dad had his hands on his head and said you stop this now or I'll take you back.

Oh you'd love that, wouldn't you? She said. You'd love to just put me in that hole and find some other—

Dad raised a hand and said stop now or else.

I went away, back through the shadows of the house, outside into clouds.  

Jason Darden poked the cat with a twisted stick.  

Put it down his mouth, Andy said.

Jason tapped the stick against its teeth. Open wide, he said.

Andy hit his brother. Put it in its butt. That's even better!

I left my soldiers on the hill. I left the enemies in their houses, alive. I climbed into the hole. The men would be coming soon to work. Brown water came through the tiny eyes of my shoes.

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