King of the Rats
David Peak

He talked incessantly of Transylvania, lording over a family of wolves, drinking the blood of virgins. Luke Temple—the only teenager in town who had access to a shotgun. When he answered the phone, his voice was washed over by the convulsions of death metal, static on the line.

"Okay," he said, "but afterwards, you buy me a six-pack and some Camels."

For nearly an hour after I'd hung up, I sat staring at a blank television screen, my reflection warped in the curved glass. I was the kind of stoner who'd get stuck on the survival of spiders. And the next night, using Luke Temple's father's shotgun, I would slaughter a cow.


How is it that the bubonic plague was ever stopped from killing all of mankind? How is it that it hasn't returned, a thousand times over, to finish what it began?


Up close, the cow looked less sturdy than I'd imagined, skin tarped over steep hip bones. Blackness had taken a bite out of the moon, a half-eaten peanut butter cup. Luke shucked a shell into the shotgun's chamber. "I only grabbed one," he said. "You'll only need the one, right?"

I knew all about how guns worked from watching videos on the internet, how to hold them, what their various parts were.

Steam vapored into the night air from the lumpy frost-bitten ground, cartoon souls in the moonlight, varnished and grim. The cow smelled like wet grass, big black eyes like television screens. There was a sudden awareness of need, an intense hunger curled fetus-like in my stomach. The word 'plumbing' flashed through my mind as I squeezed the trigger and bruised the fuck out of my shoulder.

I heard Luke's voice ringing like from a distance—couldn't unwind the churn of his words—and only then realized that we were back in his car and driving. My hands were the bloodiest they'd been since birth.

That night, I wrote in a chat room online: "It's something I know I'm capable of now."


Eventually I defected to some shadowy cluster of braindead horror film fanatics. We slurped warm foam out of Hamm's cans until our hair grew long and our grades slid low enough to justify dropping out.

I took up with the manager of a back-road video store, flabby Confederate sympathizer prone to histrionics, single-mother of a dope-eyed infant with skin like third-hand smoke. She taught me the benefits of needling speed between my toes, how to bloom a woman's asshole without causing too much discomfort. "It's safer this way," she said. "No kids this way."

From there, the familiar lull and weight of what I began to call the blackness—cancer of the mind.

She booted me from her double-wide when she found a thumb-tack pinched in the firm undersole of the baby's foot. I got caught up in my lie when I forgot that the thing couldn't walk upright yet.


Later that year, when winter was slushed up on the side of the roads, Luke Temple used his dad's shotgun to paint the walls of his bedroom. I'd long forgotten the shape of his teeth. No one wasted time on a wake.


It doesn't matter where I go or what I do or who I do it to. On the Greyhound bus at night, crossing fields of stunted, crooked trees, I can smile across the aisle at a girl and know terrible things she'll never know—not unless she's taught.

I'll do any odd job a man could dream up. And see it on through to the end.

David Peak's most recent book is The Rocket's Red Glare, a novel. He has fiction forthcoming in New Dead Families, The Brooklyn Review and Action, Yes.

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Detail of art on main page courtesy of A.M. Garcia.

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