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Authors: Jack Gantos

The Bloody Souvenir

BOOK: The Bloody Souvenir
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The Bloody Souvenir

By Jack Gantos

A Short Story from
Guys Read: Funny Business

Volume 1 of the Guys Read Library of Great Reading
Edited by Jon Scieszka
With an illustration by Adam Rex

 

T
HE
B
LOODY
S
OUVENIR

BY JACK GANTOS

M
y mother was right. I was not my own man. I was a “spineless follower” just as she had always said. I was a boy who was easily led astray. I liked hanging around with dangerous kids who were full of insanely feral ideas that ended in disaster, and I felt lucky that we had recently moved next door to the two most dangerous guys in the world, the Pagoda brothers. Frankie was a skinny, innocent-looking kid who was my age, even though he was covered with about a hundred years' worth of bruises. We were in the same sixth-grade class, though I didn't see him much because he mostly only showed up for lunch and to take his afternoon nap in the puke-smelling nurse's office. Gary Pagoda was in eighth grade, but I was never sure of his age. Maybe he was fifteen or eighteen or even twenty. It was impossible to tell. He had a lot of scar tissue on his face. When I looked at his mouth full of chipped teeth, I thought he might even be twenty-five. But when you considered how he behaved, he might just have been a supersized six-year-old psychopath. One thing I did know is that he had already been to prison. The other thing I knew was that I was vastly jealous that I hadn't been to prison, too, because that is where he got most of his manly facial wounds and body tattoos, which my mother said were “too rude for the naked eye.”

Well, you can imagine that my mom did not want me to play with those kind of boys. In fact, she “forbid” me to play with them, especially after Gary had poured a bucket of boat fuel on top of their swimming pool and set it on fire. He made Frankie and me dive in and play like we were the survivors on a Nazi submarine that had been hit with a depth charge. He stood on the end of the diving board and threw cherry bombs into the water as we swam around under the flames. No one was seriously hurt, though Frankie temporarily lost his hearing and I only suffered a little burn from where I popped up for air and set the top of my head on fire. It was no big deal that I had a patch of hair that looked like the remains of a tiny forest fire and smelled like burned rubber. I could tell Mom was annoyed, but she was still at the point where she was hoping I would grow out of this self-destructive stage. It wasn't until a week later when she entered my bedroom and caught me stitching up a three-inch gash over my knee that she lost her temper. I was using one of her sewing needles and some nylon fishing line I had found in the garage.

“You are becoming just like those Pagoda boys,” she said harshly.

“No, I'm not,” I replied. “I'm smart enough to know the difference between dangerous play and fun play.”

“No, you are not,” she shot right back. “You are lying to yourself. Mark my words, you'll do something so stupid someday that even you won't be able to deny just how
Pagoda-stupid
you've become.”

She was right, of course, I had already become a hazard to myself, but I actually thought I could stop going over there whenever I wanted.
I'm not addicted to stupidity like they are
, I had said to myself. I figured I could just snap my fingers and become a whole different kind of kid—like a choirboy, or a chess genius, or a Latin scholar, but I was wrong. I could snap my fingers until the skin peeled off and I wore the raw flesh down to the bone and I wouldn't change one little bit. In fact, I was even
more
stupid than they were, though I didn't know that just yet.

I thought I was just flirting with danger like when we made the Roman catapult out of a springy pine tree and shot each other across the front yard. I only dislocated my shoulder when I landed on a concrete yard gnome, but Mom didn't find out because Gary popped the joint of my arm back into the socket for me. But this game didn't mean I had totally lost my sense of good judgment. We were only having fun like the time we put on roller skates and blasted down their metal sliding board and through a flaming Hula-hoop at the bottom as their cousin Jennifer Pagoda filmed us. Sure, that was dangerous, but I wasn't compelled to do it like my mom suggested. I did it only after I weighed the consequences and decided it was mostly a safe activity. I had self-control when I wanted to use it. I just didn't want to use it all the time. To me, this was the difference between me and the Pagoda boys. They were obsessed with danger and driven like mindless beasts to hurt themselves. On the other hand, I was just a casual thrill seeker who could give up danger whenever I felt like it.

Or maybe not.

And this is really where my story begins, and where I proved to my mother that I was a pathetic example of a defective human a full rung below
Pagoda-stupid
. I started out the day by exercising some better judgment over at the Pagoda house. Gary wanted to have a cigarette-smoking contest to see who could suck through a pack the fastest, and I stood up and said, “No way am I doing that!”

“Why not?” Gary asked, and took a quick step toward me as he reached for his knife, which was tucked into his back pocket.

“Because smoking will kill you,” I smugly replied. “Ask anyone.”

“What if I kill you first?” he suggested, and opened his knife, which was as sharp as a razor. “What is worse? A knife through the neck or a pack of smokes? Answer me that,
brain-boy
.”

“I'd rather die with a knife blade through my lungs than smoke a pack of cigarettes and die like a coughing dog,” I replied. “Smoking is about the most stupid thing a person can do.”

Gary spit tobacco juice on the ground. “Oh, go be a public service announcement and leave us alone,” he said, and waved his knife toward my house. “Beat it.”

“No problem,” I replied, and marched off feeling very proud of myself. I was walking across my front yard while thinking that it was a shame I couldn't tell my mother how mature I had just been because she had forbidden me to play with them in the first place.

I didn't have shoes on because it was hot and shoes made my feet sweat. I took a step and suddenly I got a sharp pain right in the bottom of my left foot. “Ouch!” I yelped. It really hurt. I figured I had stepped on a sharp rock or a piece of glass or a nail. I lifted my foot to see what it was, but it wasn't any of those things. It was a great big wart on the bottom of my foot and it was madly throbbing. How could it have so suddenly grown on me?
Maybe warts are like volcanoes
, I thought,
and they just spring up overnight
. I reached down and touched the painful tip of it. “That is the most disgusting thing I have ever seen,” I said out loud as I balanced on my other foot. I figured I had better go in the house and tell Mom, but then I thought,
No, don't tell her. She'll just take you to the doctor, and he'll remove it somehow and that will hurt.
So I concluded that I would take care of this little wart problem myself.

I limped into the house remembering how Gary had showed me two little scars on his hands. When he was born, he had six fingers on each hand but the sixth one, he said, was like a rubber worm. It just limply hung down by the base of his good little finger. There was no bone in it and no way to control it, so it was always getting caught in car doors and dresser drawers, and when he wiped his butt, it always dipped into the toilet water, which was really gross. So one day when he was ten, he took a pair of garden shears and snipped them off. “Sure it bled a little bit,” he said. “But I rubbed dirt on the cut parts and the blood stopped and a week later the skin healed over. It was no big deal.”

“What'd you do with the fingers?” I asked.

He grinned sheepishly and leaned toward my ear. “Fishing bait,” he whispered. “A little finger food.”

“Did you catch anything?” I asked.

“A catfish that was big enough to feed the whole family,” he replied. “It was a monster.”

So if Gary could snip off his extra fingers, I could just pull my ugly wart out as if it were a bad tooth. How hard could it be?

I opened the front door of the house and didn't see my mom, so I quickly limped down the hallway and slipped into my room. I kept my toolbox on my dresser, and I opened it up and removed a rusty pair of needle-nose pliers I had found in the street. They must have fallen out of the back of a telephone repairman's truck. They were a little dirty-looking, so I rubbed them back and forth on my pants. Then I stood next to my bed with the bottom of my back left foot facing up. I twisted around behind me and with the pliers got a deep, unyielding grip on the wart, and just like my dentist I shouted out, “One, two, three—shazam!” And with all my might I ripped the wart out of the bottom of my foot. Instantly I knew this was not a good idea because I actually heard the sound of ripping flesh, which was like a little zipper sound. And then the blood came squirting right out of that hole in my foot and shot about six feet across the room and hit the wall.

“Arrrgh!” I cried out, and dropped straight to the floor. The pain was crippling. I kept slapping the floor and muttering the magic words against pain, “Mind over matter…mind over matter…I don't feel a thing!” But the magic words did not work. The pain was massive. I looked back at my foot and a little fountain of blood was spurting out with every beat of my heart.
I'm dying,
I thought.
I've really done it this time.

After some deep breaths I pulled myself together for a moment and steadied myself against the doorjamb. I peeked around the corner. I didn't see my mom, so I desperately hopped on one foot down the hall toward the bathroom. I glanced over my shoulder and saw little pools of blood scattered behind me. I knew they might lead to trouble with my mom, but there was nothing I could do at the moment but concentrate all my “mind-over-matter” techniques to block out the pain. I kept hopping and zigzagging down the hall like a wounded rabbit until I lunged into the bathroom, spun around, and wisely locked the door behind me.

I was out of breath, and between gasps of air I kept chanting, “Now you have done something really, really stupid!” The blood was still burbling out of my foot when I worked my way over to the tub spigot and turned it on. I knew I should clean the wound, but when the water went into the ragged, bloody hole in my foot, I thought I had been jabbed with a hot poker. “Oh, cheese!” I shouted.

I was blinded by the pain as I danced up and down while splashing bloody water all over the walls. And then just what I dreaded most in the world happened next. There was a loud knocking on the door.

“Jack!” my mother said sharply. “What is going on in there?”

I quickly bit down on my lip and composed myself. “Nothing,” I said blithely as if I really were telling the truth.

“Well,” she continued, “then can you explain why there are blood drops leading from your bedroom to the bathroom?”

“Oh, I just had a tiny accident,” I replied with a jolly chuckle. “No big deal.”

“Are you okay?” she pressed.

“Yes,” I said in a fake cheerful voice because I was about to explode. My muscles were so contorted I thought all the bones in my body would snap. “I'll be okay.”

“Just make sure you clean up the hall,” she ordered, and I heard her turn and walk away.

I instantly shoved a wet washcloth in my mouth and tried not to scream too loudly when suddenly there was more loud knocking on the bathroom door.

“What?” I shouted.

“You didn't do something
stupid
with the Pagoda boys?” she asked, and I could tell by her harsh voice that she was already convinced that I had.

“No!” I shouted back.

“Well, you know you are capable of hurting yourself,” she reminded me. “You've done it before.”

“I know,” I replied indignantly, “but I'm fine.”

“Just checking,” she added.

“Thank you for your consideration,” I said sweetly, “but you may go now.” Honestly, I was in so much pain I was ready to beat myself unconscious on the dull edge of the sink.

And she did go! I pressed my ear to the door and heard her walk away, and when I could no longer hear her, I said to myself, “Oh, boy, this time you really did something stupid.”

I didn't know what to do next so I opened the medicine chest and looked inside. There was a little plastic bag of cotton balls. I never in my life had noticed them before when suddenly I got one of those “Eureka!” moments.

“They are for stuffing holes!” I shouted joyously. I shook a few from the bag, took a deep breath, and pressed one up into the hole. Then I did another, and another, until the hole was filled up. I stood and pressed my foot down on the floor. It hurt, but I was relieved that the blood had clotted and stopped. Then just to give the cotton balls a little more strength, I took white first aid tape and wrapped it around my foot.
Perfect!
I thought.
It's as good as new.

I took a towel and wiped up the bloody mess in the bathroom, then crawled down the hall, wiping up the blood drops on the floor until I got into my bedroom.

And there it was—the reward for all that pain. I grinned like an idiot as I knelt down over the puddle of blood. Right in the middle was the rusty pair of pliers, and right at the tip of the pliers was that big hunk of bloody, yellow, warty flesh. I plucked it out and made it over to my bedside table, where I snatched up my journal and then got a knife out of my toolbox. I gouged a hole in the cover of the journal and shoved the juicy wart inside. “That's a keeper,” I said, admiring my souvenir of pain as I shuffled over to the window, where I set the journal on the sill to dry under the sun.

That night I slept well, and the next morning I hopped out of bed, but when my foot hit the floor, the pain made me wince and I jerked my foot up. “That's sore,” I said, and then added, “Of course it is sore, you idiot. You just ripped a wart out with a pair of pliers. Now suck it up and go to school.”

I got dressed, put on some well-padded sneakers, and left the house. For once Frankie Pagoda showed up to school before lunch. He was in my math class.

BOOK: The Bloody Souvenir
7.4Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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