Posted by: Kathryn Hulick | March 27, 2008

Elk

New Boston, New Hampshire. March 11, 2007.

Sparks

Elk loved nothing more than fire. The way it danced for him- orange on red on blue, flames licking the air with tongues of smoke. He’d tried his first cigarette not because the boy who offered it to him was tall and tough and cool, but because of the way the orange tip spun through the air when the boy held it between his fingers. Elk swallowed his first mouthful of smoke without a single cough, then used the butt to set fire to a trash can full of newspaper. It made a fabulous sound, like a flock of birds taking flight, and a million bits of ash did fly, all over the empty parking lot.

His real name was Ellwood Kingsbury III, but he’d called himself Elk ever since his dad left him at the age of ten with nothing more than a stupid name.

On his seventeenth birthday, his mother kicked him out of the house. All he wanted were fireworks for his party, and he saved up his own money but she forgot to get the permit. Then his mom insisted that his dad would find out somehow if they set anything off illegally. Yes, she knew dad was a pathetic deadbeat, but he was still a cop. He’d find out about it somehow. (Yeah, ‘cause you’d tell him, Elk had said). He stole the explosives from a friend’s shed, where he’d seen them a few weeks before, and set them off down on the beach with a bunch of his friends. A girl he’d noticed more and more in the weeks before the party stared at him as he lit the fuse, then smiled in awe when the cone exploded in a waterfall of yellow sparks. Elk moved beside her, slid his hand up her back, and felt like seventeen was going to be just fine.

That’s when his mom showed up. The girl vanished along with everyone else, and Elk found himself with a lighter in one hand and one remaining firework in the other. He lit it. Right there in front of her, held it out like a light saber, like Darth Vader. He wanted her to laugh. He never would have thrown it at her. He never would have even have pretended to, but she wasn’t thinking straight, and that’s what she saw.

She told him he wasn’t welcome in her house. No way was Elk going to his dad’s. Maybe when he was sixteen, but not at seventeen. He wanted to find that girl, but he barely remembered her name. Annabelle or Annelise or something like that. So he crashed on his best friend’s couch for a few nights, and skipped school. No mom meant no rules. During the day, he smoked and watched TV. At night, he wandered the beach with his lighter, making pyramids of driftwood and burning them down.

Then Elk’s dad bought a motorboat. Brand new. Just one week after his own son’s seventeenth birthday—didn’t even send his kid a card, then bought himself a motorboat. Elk stole it at three o-clock in the morning and drove it the only place he knew where no one would look.

Dutch Island.

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