Joe didn’t want to think about what he’d see when he got to the top of the hill.
Bill Young was the first to find it, and he ran. Ran all the way to a teacher who just told him to leave it alone. It’s true he didn’t go back up the hill, but he did tell every other fifth grader at recess what he saw.
Bill said it was a gopher, and it looked like a dog had gotten it about a week ago. Instead of whatever he was supposed to see, guts and all, he saw the back of Andrew’s striped shirt. He looked like a roly poly bug, hunched and thick around. Andrew was kneeling over something, and only turned his head when he spoke to Joe.
“It isn’t a groundhog,” he said.
“How did you get up here before me?”
Joe heard someone at the base of the hill shout and his classmates laugh. He wished he was playing tag on the creaky jungle gym. He tried to imagine anything else. The slide, the red kickball, Ms. Peter’s loose shirt. No-matter what, his mind went back to what was in front of him.
Joe thought of Andrew’s too-tight clothing, his crooked clammy hands. He didn’t want to get closer, he was worried Andrew’s overly sweet breath would get stuck in his nostrils and make him sick. Still, Joe walked next to where he knelt and looked down.
Just a bird, or what was left of one. There was hardly anything to it, just a head and the brittle stench of something’s bones drying up in the sun.
“A cat got it, I think,” Andrew said.
“I guess so."
“I wonder if the cat dragged him up here or caught him in this spot."
“I don’t know.”
“I know you don’t,” Andrew said, wiping a hand across his face.
Andrew rolled his shoulders like he was getting frustrated. “How could you know how it happened?”
Joe wanted to ask Andrew if he acted like this on purpose. He wondered why Andrew wiped his mouth and why he wouldn’t get up to face him.
“Don’t tell anyone I’m up here, and don’t tell them it’s just a bird,” Andrew said.
“What should I tell them, then?”
Joe reached the edge of the hill to see everyone still staring.
He looked anywhere else but the crowd of kids around him when he reached the bottom.
“So, did you see it?” Bill shouted.
“Yeah,” Joe said, walking past the crowd and back towards the school, “I saw it.”
Matthew Kabik is the editor in chief of Third Point Press and lives in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. His work has appeared in Sundog Lit, Pithead Chapel, and Atticus Review, among others. Follow him on Twitter @mlkabik or visit his website for a complete listing of published work: www.matchstickcircus.com.