Blast Radius

by Josiah Upton
“What caused the explosion, Ignacio?
Iggy barely heard the man’s question. Between his frantic thoughts and the ringing still in his ears, the voice was like a whisper in the storm. He focused his eyes on the detective sitting across from him in the ICU waiting room. The man had introduced himself, but Iggy already forgot his name. “What?”
“Was it a pipe bomb, C4?” the detective asked. “Maybe an old army surplus grenade? And more importantly, where did it come from?”
Iggy shook his head. The motion passed cool air over his scalp, which was full of hair just that morning. Now, it was smooth and pink as a baby’s bottom. “There wasn’t any bomb or grenade. Nothing like that.”
And even though a blast definitely went off in those woods that evening, the state of his body (alive and in one piece) made him question that detail. None of it made any sense. “Are we even sure there was an explosion?”
The detective narrowed his gaze. “Are you high, Ignacio?” Iggy shook his head again. In truth, though his mind was bewildered at the moment, he had been painfully sober for over an hour. The detective leaned forward in his chair. “Then stop playing games. The preliminary report shows an extra set of tire tracks at the scene. You need to tell me who they belonged to, and what kind of explosives they had.”
       The detective raised his eyebrow. “In addition to the drugs you bought from them. Javier’s 911 call already tells us that a deal was going down.”
Javier. His brother. Javi.
Iggy’s eyes drifted to the ICU doors, knowing his little brother was fighting for his life. He shouldn’t have been out there in the woods. He shouldn’t have been so close when…
Iggy began to sweat. He rubbed his fingers over his tender brow ridge, which was also devoid of hair now. “I didn’t buy any drugs,” he said. More moisture secreted from his face, and he wasn’t sure if it was tears or just more sweat. He couldn’t grasp exactly what happened out there, but it put his flesh and blood in critical condition. “I didn’t mean for any of this to happen!”
“What?” the detective asked. “What happened?”
The sixteen-year-old swallowed the lump in his throat, replaying the day’s events in his mind. Right up until the gun was pointed at his brother. “Something impossible.”

* * *

That morning, Iggy awoke to a pounding in his head, and a pounding on his door.
“Ignacio!” his Nana called. Her Latina accent was still strong after decades living in Montana. “You’re going to be late for school!”
He groaned, and shifted in his sheets. An empty bottle of peppermint liqueur rolled onto the floor. Just thinking about the sickly-sweet alcohol he downed before passing out made him want to puke. He knew he had to wait for her to leave before exiting, lest she smell it on him. “I’ll be out in a minute. Just getting dressed.”
Iggy heard the floorboards creak under her weight as she huffed away. He buried his face in his hands, regretting his decision to get wasted as his temples throbbed. Partying alone was sad and disappointing.
       He wished he was back home with his friends, with his boy Craig. They were probably smoking up a big bowl the night before, not drinking alone after their grandparents went to bed.
His hand grasped the 50ml bottle, the one he found in his late step-grandfather’s old tool shed the first week he arrived. Nana didn’t go out there, so she wouldn’t notice.
At least that’s what he hoped. Once the bottle was stashed and his clothes put on, he vacated his room, only to see Nana at the end of the hall. Arms crossed and chest puffed. She was always suspicious of him, but her face indicated she had proof. “You have fun last night?”
“Don’t know what you’re talking about, Nana,” Iggy said.
He tried to walk past her, but her elbows cocked out, blocking his escape. She sniffed. “So you didn’t smoke marihuana, but you sure smell like a party. And you left the light on in the tool shed last night. You don’t think I know where my sweet Wendell hid his booze?”
Iggy sighed. He just wanted one night to kick back. That’s all.
He had been on the straight and narrow ever since his parents shipped him off to Livingston, Montana. Far away from his school, his friends, and anything remotely resembling fun. All he took with him was a couple suitcases and his bratty twelve-year-old brother, Javier.
Javi glared at Iggy over Nana’s shoulder as he walked through the kitchen. Javi left behind friends too, but it was Iggy getting into trouble that spooked their parents, and sent them to live with their doubly-widowed grandmother in the middle of nowhere.
“I gotta go,” Iggy said. “We’re going to be late.”
“Not so fast, nieto,” Nana said. “I agreed to take you in, because I love you. But if you cannot respect your abuela, then there will be consequences. Starting with taking your car. Do we need to go over the rules again? No alcohol, no cigarettes, no drugs!”
And no fun, Iggy thought.
She narrowed her eyes, like she could sense what he was thinking. “You pull something like this again, and your keys are gone. Understand?”
Iggy looked down and nodded. He was finally starting to feel guilty.
Nana’s face smoothed. “Your actions don’t just affect you, Ignacio. They touch everyone around you. Just ask your brother.”
“No need,” Iggy said, slipping past her portly frame. “He reminds me every day.”
Javi continued his glare when Iggy entered the kitchen, stewing silently over his bowl of Frosted Flakes. “You gonna be able to drive today? Or are you still drunk?”
“Relax,” Iggy said, grabbing an apple and taking a bite. He needed something light after the liqueur’s assault on his stomach. “I’ll get you to day care, safe and sound.”
Iggy’s little rehab vacation was only supposed to be for the summer. It became a more permanent arrangement when his father lost his job, and his parents moved into a tiny apartment back home to make ends meet. He and Javi were stuck in Livingston, while their friends continued school in Albuquerque without them.
When Javi heard this news, he didn’t speak to his brother for an entire week.
The two of them rode in silence on the way to school. One of the things Iggy missed the most was rolling in Craig’s truck, the cab filled with smoke as the radio blasted. Nothing mattered, and everything was good. Now it was just him and Javi in his crappy Nissan Versa.
But at least one thing could be said about his situation: he was surrounded by lush, mountainous scenery in all directions. He could take a back road, end up in some secluded patch of trees in the mountains, and not see another soul for hours. If Craig were there, it would be the perfect spot to light up and chill out. But he wasn’t. Iggy had to enjoy his excursions stone-sober.
The Versa rolled up to Javi’s school, with a few minutes to spare.
“I’m trying out for football today,” Javi said. “The coach thinks I might make a good defensive lineman. Pick me up at 4:00?”
Iggy realized this was one of those few moments when his brother spoke without judgment or resentment. He seized it. “Absolutely.”
Javi smiled. As he got out, Iggy called after him. “Yo, squash that QB for me, alright!”
Minutes later, Iggy pulled his car into the Park High student lot, and saw Keith, the school’s resident drug dealer. He nodded.
As if he had a giant FORMER USER stamp on his forehead, the petty dealer ran into Iggy on the first day of school, and sensed the smoker streak in him. Iggy explained those days were behind him, and didn’t buy anything off Keith. Not like he had the money, anyway.
But he still hung around the senior classman and his crew over the months. Iggy was the group’s straight-edge, the odd man out. He wasn’t sure why he did it, either. Maybe to live vicariously through them, which was a little sad, and pathetic. But with no other friends, it was all he had.
It also might have had something to do with Ember, the only girl in the circle. She had a lip ring and pink hair that always stuck out rebelliously from her knit cap. Iggy often caught himself staring at her. But she always stood close to Keith, and Iggy wasn’t sure if they were dating or not. He decided to blame that instead of his shyness for never speaking to her.
“Yo!” Keith said as he walked up to Iggy’s car. Ember was by his side. “How goes it, man?”
“Good,” Iggy said, and felt a smirk creep onto his face. He glanced at Ember. “Just a little hungover from last night.”
She smiled, and it made him tingle a little inside. Keith clapped his hands over his mouth. “Oh, snap! Straight-Edge Ignacio decided to get his drink on!”
Iggy shook his head, and waved his hand through the air, as if lazily swatting a fly. “No big deal. Feel like shit, though.”
Keith slapped his hand on Iggy’s shoulders. “Well, hey – lifting up the like-shit-feelers of this world is my specialty. Now, I know you just got back in the game, and I hate to sound like a bad anti-drug commercial, but me and Em are gonna get high in the concession stand after school. Wanna join?”
“Been there, done that,” Iggy said. Before getting sent away, the nail in the coffin was Craig talking him into a celebratory blunt under the bleachers on the last day of school. Some ham-necked coach spotted them, and alerted campus security.  Busted.
       “That’s almost exactly the last thing I did before getting sent a thousand miles north. If I get caught again, I might end up in an igloo at the top of Canada.”
“You won’t get caught,” Keith said. “You said your Nana’s got the nose of a hound?”
Iggy nodded. After several months of clean living, she still insisted on doing his laundry. He caught her on multiple occasions sniffing his clothes.
“Doubt she can smell this,” Ember said, holding out a few green capsules in her palm.
“Ember is my new associate,” Keith said. “She handles the pills and tabs.”
“Girls usually do pills,” Ember explained. “Party, lose weight, focus for the test, forget that your boyfriend cheated on you – there’s a pill for everything. I got Oxy, Percs, Adderall, X. Ever try Molly?”
“Heard all about it,” Iggy answered, several songs coming to mind. “Everybody back home wouldn’t shut up about it. Never tried it, though. Raves weren’t really my thing. I only like… I used to only like smoking up with a couple friends at home.”
“Rolling isn’t just for the club,” Ember said. “There’s lots of fun you can have by yourself… or with a friend.”
She bit her lip piercing, and winked at Iggy. It caught him off guard. Once he recovered, he felt pressured to clarify, perhaps more for himself than for them.
“Zero judgment on you guys, but I don’t get high anymore. And I’m not back in the game. I’m just trying to do school, and get back home. But thanks for the invite.” He smiled nervously, and went on to his first class. A not-so-small part of him wished he had turned around.
While leaving his last class that day, Iggy got a text from Nana: Don’t forget to pick up Javi at 4:00, then come straight home. No funny business.
Yes Nana, he responded, and pocketed his phone.
He took two steps, then received another text, this time from Javi. Reading it felt like someone punching him in the gut: Dad called. He and mom are getting a divorce. That’s the real reason why we’re staying with Nana longer, until they get it sorted out. He’ll probably call you soon. See you at 4.
And as predicted, Iggy got a call from his dad. But he didn’t answer. He hit Ignore, turned off his phone, and headed straight for the concession stand. He didn’t care anymore. He was going to get high as a kite, and leave all this bullshit down on the ground.
Keith looked surprised when Iggy showed up, and Ember smiled. “Change of heart?” she asked.
“Yeah,” Iggy said. Ember grabbed her backpack to get the THC pills, but he shook his head, and turned to Keith. “You got any real shit? After today, I gotta light up.”
“You okay?” Ember asked, as Keith reached into his bag, pulling out a mint tin that hid a couple of joints inside. “Something bad happen?”
“Don’t worry about it,” Iggy said, taking the joint and lighter from Keith’s hand. “It’s about to be all good.”
He sparked the lighter and lit the tip, until it glowed bright red as he took in a deep drag. It had been so long that it was like fire in his lungs. He coughed for five minutes, Keith and Ember laughing at him. And then, he was laughing too. His strict Nana, his parents’ divorce, his stupid little brother’s guilt trips – it all dissolved in a puff of smoke.
His reservations disappeared, too. He started talking to Ember, asking her questions, and answering hers. He couldn’t stop staring at her beautiful golden eyes, or that shiny lip ring. He felt incredible, like he’d never been this blazed before.
“What kind of bud is this?” Iggy asked, looking at the cherry tip. It was nearly all done now. “Some kinda Montana super-strain? I never smoked anything like this before. You’re sure it’s not crack, or something?”
“Nah, it’s the Mary Jane your parents warned you about,” Keith said, flashing Ember a small grin. “Just a little dusted, that’s all.”
“Dusted?” Iggy asked. “Like, angel dust? PCP?? Ah, shit! Why didn’t you tell?!?”
“Relax, buddy,” Ember said, placing a hand on his forearm. It was the first time her skin touched his. The sensation was a little numbed, but it felt good. “Relax. It’s just a tiny bit. You won’t die. You’ll be just fine. You’ll be better than fine.”
He put his hand on top of hers, his inhibitions completely gone. She smiled. His next instinct was to kiss her, but she spoke before he could. “You should try Molly. I could walk you through it.”
“Yeah?” Iggy asked.
“Hey,” Keith said, extinguishing the joint. “Didn’t you say you knew some killer scenic spots, just a couple miles north from your Nana’s place? Real secluded and shit?”
Iggy nodded.
“That would be great for a little get-together. I have some friends who wanted to kick it later, maybe we could go to one of your spots after this, and I could have them meet us there…”
A sudden realization struck Iggy, bringing his head just above the fog. “What time is it?”
Ember looked at her phone. “About 4:45.”
“Dammit!” Iggy said, turning on his phone. There were about a dozen texts from Javi, and a few from his Nana. All very terse, some in all caps. One with a few expletives in Spanish. He picked up his backpack. “I have to go. Like, yesterday.”
“What about getting together later?” Keith asked.
“Not gonna happen,” Iggy said. “I’ll be grounded for the rest of my life after I get home. There’s no way Nana’s not smelling all of this.” Before they could respond, we was out of the concession stand, running to his car. Completely high, and not enjoying it at all.
Iggy tore down the road and a few streets over, making it to his little brother’s school in less than five minutes. Every other kid had been picked up, and Javi was standing by himself in front of the middle school football field. When he got in the car, the disdain was so thick it nearly suffocated Iggy. Definitely not enjoying his high.
“What took you so long?” Javi asked. He sniffed the air. “You stink. You smell like when you used to come home from Craig’s house. You were smoking drugs again, weren’t you?”
“That doesn’t concern you, little brother,” Iggy said, driving away from the middle school.
“Of course it does,” Javi said. “Your stupid druggie phase was what made us move all the way up here. I didn’t do anything wrong.” A long pause followed, and Iggy could sense he had more to say. “It’s probably what made mom and dad split up.”
Iggy stomped on the brakes. “That’s not my fault, and you know it! No one gets a divorce because their kid smoked weed!”
“Whatever,” Javi snapped. “Maybe if we weren’t here, we could enjoy whatever time we had left as a family back home! But you ruined that. Your drugs were more important.”
“Would you please stop saying ‘drugs’? You sound like a youth pastor. I’m not some addict shooting up!”
 “I don’t care!” Javi screamed. “You’re a loser and I hate you!”
Iggy slammed his fists on his steering wheel in frustration. He couldn’t believe all this was getting pinned on him. And once he got home, he would have to hear it again from his Nana. She wouldn’t pass up the opportunity to bring him down.
He grabbed his phone and called Keith. “Hey, you still at the school?”
Yeah,” Keith replied.
“I’m coming back. Tell your friends we’ll have a spot in about thirty minutes.” He hung up, and started driving.
“What are you doing?” Javi asked.
“I’m going to show you what ‘doing drugs’ looks like,” Iggy said. “It’s not a movie or TV show. No one dies, no one gets divorced. It’s just a couple kids trying to have a good time while all that other shit goes on around them. I’m going to set you straight, little brother.”
“I’m telling Nana,” Javi declared, pulling out his phone.
“Like hell you are,” Iggy said. He took Javi’s phone and stashed it in his pocket. “My buzz has already been killed enough.”
In no time they were back at Park High, and Keith and Ember were climbing into the back. “Um, who’s this?” Keith asked, pointing at Javi.
“My brother, Javier,” Iggy said. “Don’t worry, he’ll be cool. If he knows what’s good for him.”
“Hey there,” Ember said, leaning forward to introduce herself. “I’m Ember. Gee, you’re a cutie! Ya know, I have a little sister. She’s a bit older than you, but I could let you meet her, if you like.”
Javi put on a fake smile, and turned around. “Really? That would be swell! Say, do you have a phone? I wanna play Turtle Hurdle. It’s just my favorite!"
Ember frowned. “Uh, sure. Lemme just…”
“Nice try,” Iggy said, holding his hand up to stop her. “No one give the little kid any electronics. He’ll just get them all sticky and broken.” Javi dropped the smile, and faced front. Iggy smirked. “Keith, tell your friends to go north on 89…”
After twenty minutes, Iggy pulled his car into a clearing in the forest. He had been to this location a few times, and every time his solo adventures in sober leisure went undisturbed by another soul. But this afternoon was going to be different. Now he had the friends, and they had the tools to make this one last smoke session a good one.
Before real life would come back and piss in his blankets.
Keith finished giving the directions to his friends, then got out of the car with Iggy and Ember. “Killer location!” he said, walking towards a cliff edge that overlooked the Yellowstone River. “It’s got the view and everything. I used to camp and stuff as a kid, but then I got an Xbox. I need to get out more.”
       He looked to Javi, still sitting in the passenger seat. Arms folded tighter than a vise. “Hey man. No offense, but I wasn’t expecting your little bro to tag along. This isn’t exactly going to be Disney Junior here.”
“I can hear you,” Javi said. “Don’t worry, I’m not getting out. You guys go have your fun without me.”
Iggy’s conscience nagged at him. In this moment, he was the authority figure, the male role model. And if his parents’ divorce actually happened, and the brothers ended up with their mom, he’d continue playing surrogate father in between visits with their dad. Iggy started to rethink this.
He went over to the car, craning his head down to Javi’s window. “Look, I’m sorry. I’m not trying to make your life hell. And after this, I’m sure Nana will lock me in my room. But I need this right now, especially after today. One last time. You hear me?”
Javi didn’t respond. He only stared straight ahead at the fantastic mountain vista, emotionless.
“Okay. Just stay in the car. Turn on the radio or something. We’ll be home before you know it, and you can witness Nana tearing me a new one. Don’t get eaten by a bear or anything.”
Iggy did a little drumming with his hands on the car door, then walked off to join Keith and Ember. He was still pretty stoned from the smoke at school, and after making what he felt to be sufficient amends with his brother, he was starting to enjoy it again. It was a beautiful early fall afternoon, with the sun shining brightly enough to balance out the slight chill in the air. He felt incredible.
“They’ll be here soon,” Keith said. “I gotta piss. Meet you guys back at the road, and we can get the party started?”
“Sounds good,” Ember said. She grabbed Iggy’s shoulder, and pinched it playfully. He reveled in it. “Ignacio is gonna show me the local wildlife. Lead the way?”
“Definitely,” Iggy said.
The woods they walked through were breathtaking, and the simmering effects of Iggy’s high made the pine trees seem so much taller and majestic. When they had gotten a few yards into the woods they stopped, and Iggy turned to Ember. The setting sun ignited her hazel eyes, making them glow like rings of fire. She looked so good.
       She caught his gaze and smiled, her dimples almost big enough to drink out of. “So, you think any more about rolling?”
“On Molly?” Iggy asked. “I dunno. What’s it like?”
“Well,” she said, starting to walk again. “First, things kinda slow down, like you’re floating in space. For some people, it relaxes them. For others, they get lots of energy. You might want to move around. That’s why people always take it at clubs. And you’ll feel good. Really happy, like the best Christmas morning you can remember as a kid. Whatever’s worrying you or hurting you, it’s like it all disappears.”
Iggy thought of all the depressing things swirling around his life, things as recent as that afternoon. The weed he smoked helped him forget it a little, but it was still lingering somewhere in the back of his mind. It would be great for it to completely vanish. “That sounds nice.”
“But for me,” Ember said, stopping next to a giant pine tree. She grabbed Iggy’s arm, caressing it slowly, causing goosebumps to pop across his skin. “For me the best part is the touch. The feeling of my skin against someone else’s. When you’re rolling, it’s the best feeling in the world.” She moved closer to Iggy, close enough that if he let gravity do the work, he would fall into a kiss with her. She pulled a little plastic bag from her pocket, colorful pills inside. “So you wanna try it? With me?”
The answer was simple for Iggy: Screw everything else. He didn’t just want to feel good, he wanted to feel great. And he had the chance to do that with someone as gorgeous as Ember, in that gloriously picturesque backdrop. It was the perfect time, the perfect opportunity. “Ok."
“Cool,” she said, opening the bag. “Usually it’s $30 a pop, but I’ll give you the Friends and Family discount at $20.” She grabbed a pill and held it out for him. “You ready?”
Iggy stared at it for a long time, not sure what to say. “I don’t have any money.”
“You don’t?” she asked, looking like a baby dear with those wide eyes. But she wasn’t nearly as innocent. “How do you pay for gas?”
“My Nana gives me a gas card, so I won’t have cash to spend on…” Iggy shook his head. He felt like an idiot. “Never mind. So you were just trying to get a sale out of me? That’s what this was about? I thought you… I mean, I thought that maybe you and I might…”
Ember smiled awkwardly, and took a step back. “Me and Keith, we kinda have a thing going on right now.” She crossed her arms, breathing an exaggerated sigh. “Uh, wow. This makes things weird now. I’m sorry, Iggy. I wasn’t trying to…”
“That’s bull,” he said. “All the touching and the flirting. You knew what you were doing. You knew I liked you, and were using that to make a sell.”
“Uh, nope. Sorry,” she said, laughing nervously. Her poker face was weak, and Iggy could see right through it. “Let’s just forget about it, okay? You can still have a good time. How much do you have on that gas card? I guess I can take that instead of cash.”
“Thanks, but I’m not interested in popping pills with two-faced liars right now,” he said, walking back the way they came. “I’m gonna go check on my brother.”
“Wait,” she said, getting in his way. She bit her lip ring and looked nervously over her shoulder. They were out of sight from the car, and Keith was nowhere to be found. “Ok, so you don’t wanna roll. Fine. Just gimme the gas card, and we can make out for, like, five minutes. And I’ll let you put your hand up my shirt. Keith won’t know. Actually, he won’t even care...”
“What is wrong with you?!” Iggy yelled. “Why are you doing this?”
“I need new customers,” Ember said, her eyes pleading. “Business has been so slow recently. None of the girls are buying anymore. You don’t understand…”
A car horn sounded in the distance. Keith’s friends had just arrived, and it offered Iggy the perfect excuse to leave Ember standing there. He wanted as far away from her as possible.
A short trek brought him back to the Versa. Javi was still sitting in the passenger side, looking like he’d sucked on a lemon for the last hour. Iggy couldn’t blame him. How could he have brought him out here?
“Yo!” Keith shouted, waving him over to the 90s model red Camaro that had just pulled up. It was in pristine condition, but still seemed old as hell. The driver looked exactly like Iggy had expected: trucker mustache, aviator glasses, denim jacket, and receding hairline. Definitely someone too old to be a high school “friend”. The passenger sported a mullet, a stained hockey jersey, and about ten more years life experience than the driver.
The driver climbed out, having to pull his faded Soundgarden shirt back over his gut when he stood up. “Iggy, this is my cousin Orren – though he’s more like an uncle,” Keith introduced. “Orren, this is Iggy. He’s the one that knew about this place. He’s cool.”
“’Sup,” Orren said, shoving one hand in his jacket pocket, and lowering his aviators with the other. “You weren’t kidding about the secluded nature of this location. I stopped seeing other cars about five miles ago. Real good spot.” His passenger got out, and stood stiffly next to Orren. “This here is Ron-Town.”
“Ron-Town?” Iggy asked, just barely stifling a giggle.
“Full name’s Ronald Reese Townsend,” the mulleted man said. “But the ladies can’t resist a trip to Ron-Town.”
While Orren and Ron-Town chuckled, Iggy’s eyes flashed to his car. This scenario was getting creepier by the second, and he felt urged to take his brother and get out of there. A few yards away he saw Ember emerge from the trees. Orren stopped laughing. “Well, hello there, Emby. How are things?”
“Good,” Ember answered timidly, still hovering close to the woods. It was evident she was not excited to see Orren, and Iggy guessed he was the reason she was so desperate for new buyers. What this meeting truly was slowly became more apparent to him. Ember walked reluctantly closer to the group. “Still trying to build up my customer base. Slow and steady, right?”
“Now, don’t go too slow, honey,” Orren said, reaching out to brush a hair from her face. She grimaced and pulled her head away from his touch. “We’ve got a business to run. Remember what we talked about last time?”
Iggy didn’t care anymore about how she played him, it was clear she had heavier things to worry about than leading on boys. But he couldn’t be her hero, either. His number one priority was getting his brother away from this situation, and forgetting this day ever happened.
“Well, it was nice meeting you, Orren,” Iggy said. He nodded to the stiff man in the hockey jersey. “Ron-Town. But I gotta be heading out. Homework and chores to do, and stuff.”
“Hold up,” Keith said. “We still need a ride back, man. And Orren isn’t passing through town.”
“Don’t worry,” Orren said, his many-ringed fingers up in the air. “Gotta make a stop in Billings before zipping back up to Canuckistan. We can’t stay long, either. But this will only take a second.” He reached into the Camaro, pulled out a plastic shopping sack and handed it to Keith. “You sure you can handle this, Cos? This ain’t just reefer or party pills. This is the big leagues.”
Keith reached into the sack, pulling out a tightly-packed, sealed plastic bag. Little white crystals glinted inside. Iggy knew instantly what it was, and his heart started racing. This wasn’t just some good-time get-together, it was the kind of hardcore drug deal that federal agents dreamed of busting. And Iggy was being used as the package’s transportation back to Livingston. This was serious.
Keith put the bag away, nodding slowly. “Yeah. I got this…”
“Meth?” a little voice choked behind Iggy. “Is that meth?”
He turned and saw that Javi was out of the car. He should have stayed in the car.
And he should have kept his mouth shut.
Ron-Town took a step forward, and Iggy tensed up, ready to react. He wasn’t going to let some sleazy meth dealer lay a hand on his brother. But Orren held Ron-Town back, and shook his head.
“Methamphetamines?” Orren asked Javi, smiling as he removed his sunglasses. His pupils were dilated, the black nearly eclipsing the iris. “Heavens, no! It’s just candy, kiddo. That’s all.”
“I know what that is,” Javi said. “I’ve watched Breaking Bad.”
“Haven’t we all?” Orren said, chuckling dryly. He took slow steps toward Iggy and his brother, his boots scraping on the dirt road. “Look, son. This is something that don’t concern you, understand? Just get back in the car, and wait. And do Uncle O a favor, and don’t watch so much TV, okay?”
His smile dropped when he turned to Iggy. “Keith said you were cool, and I wanna believe that you’re cool. But that little man of yours is acting very uncool right now. You need to get him under control. Now.”
Shaking, sweating, Iggy nodded. He pulled his phone out of his pocket, and slapped it onto Javi’s chest. “Just get back in the car, and play a game.” He leaned forward, lowering his voice. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t know this was going to happen. Seriously. We’re leaving as soon as we can, and this will all be over.”
Javi wouldn’t speak. His face only showed shame and betrayal, and Iggy felt like he deserved every bit of it. His let-down brother shook his head, and meandered back to the car.
Orren, Ron-Town, Keith and Ember formed a semi-huddle by the Camaro, though Ember kept her distance from the older two. And Iggy was somewhere in between Javi and them, wishing he could tear out of there, but afraid of what they would do. After all, he was the mule for their meth. He felt sickened at the thought. He just hoped this would wrap up soon.
And God help him if he got pulled over on the way back.
“Now, back to business,” Orren said. “Each pack is a half ounce. Start at $450, then slowly bump it up to $500 with each deal. You keep 20%, the rest comes back to us…”
While the transaction went forward, Iggy heard a muffled voice from behind him. He turned and found Javi by the car, the phone to his ear. “Yes, I want to report a meth deal in progress…”
“Hey!” Iggy hissed. “What the hell are you doing?”
Before Javi could respond, Iggy heard a click. Ron-Town had a gun in his hand, pointed right at his little brother. “Hang up,” he said. Trembling, Javi ended the 911 call. “Drop the phone.”
Javi let the phone slip from his hands and hit the dirt. Iggy could see a wet stain growing on his brother’s jeans. He felt horrible.
“Whoa!” Orren said. “Easy there, R.T. Don’t go flying off the handle. We don’t want another incident.”
“He already called the cops,” Ron-Town said. “They’re probably on their way.”
“Out here?” Orren asked. “Nah, they’ll never find us in time. Let’s just wrap this up.”
Ron-Town didn’t lower his arm. The gun in his hand started to shake. “They’ve seen our faces. They’ve seen your car, and the license plate. They know Keith and Ember. We can’t let them leave.” His mullet bounced as he shook his head. “I won’t go back to jail.”
“Ronald…” Orren said, a warning in his voice.
“I’m sorry,” Ron-Town said.
He tightened his grip on the pistol, raising his aim. His finger went for the trigger. Iggy screamed and ran for his brother. Orren yelled, and tried to pull the gun from Ron-Town’s hand, but it didn’t work. When it went off, there was only a split second before the bullet connected with Iggy’s forehead. It broke through his skull, and ripped into his brain. Everything went white.
The first sense to return to Iggy was that of smell. Dirt, smoke, burnt pine. Charred flesh. He willed his eyes to pry open, his vision blurry. It was dark, definitely night time. The only light was the haze of fire clinging to the tall trees around him. The next thing he saw was bare skin. He was in the middle of nowhere, completely naked. Where had his clothes gone?
He determined to stand up. He braced his hands on the ground, and the feeling of dirt and gravel on his palms was painful. His skin was raw and pink, like the top layer had peeled off his entire body.
After a moment on his hands and knees, the memories of what happened began to come back: Keith and Ember at school, the text about his parents’ divorce. Wanting to kiss Ember, then not wanting to. Two strange men in the woods, one with a ridiculous name. A red Camaro, a bag of meth. A gun.
Iggy pushed himself up to stand, his muscles weak and wobbly. He needed to find his brother. His unfocused eyes darted around the dark woods, until he saw his car, and a motionless body several feet away. Like it had been blown back by an incredible force. Iggy limped towards his brother’s body, collapsing on it. Javi was covered with burns and blood. His eyes were closed. His chest barely moved. Iggy cried into the night sky.
Minutes later an ambulance arrived. They asked how Iggy was feeling, and what had happened. He only directed them to Javi, pleading with them to keep him alive. The two were loaded into the ambulance, and rushed down the winding rural roads. It took forever. If only he hadn’t brought him out there, so far away from a hospital. If only he had just went home after school.
As the emergency team worked frantically to keep Javi stable, Iggy ducked his head down, placing his hands on his scalp. Not one hair could his fingers find. What happened?
When they arrived at the ER, Javi was whisked away to the intensive care unit, leaving Iggy behind with only pain, questions, and an ugly set of borrowed hospital clothes. His parents were notified, and they boarded the next flight out of Albuquerque. His Nana called, screamed at him in a mixture of English and Spanish, then hung up to wait for a friend to bring her there.
Then the detective came, along with the questions Iggy couldn’t answer, not even within himself. But his raw and pink skin, his missing hair and clothes, the fact that he didn’t have a hole in his head… Realization slowly came over him, and however impossible to grasp, the evidence pointed to one insane explanation.
“Javi is in there because of me,” Iggy told the detective, trembling in the ICU waiting room chair. “Because of the decisions I made today. Because of whatever is wrong with me.”
“Wrong with you?” the detective asked.
Tears began to fall down his face. He stood up and paced around, shaking his hands vigorously. Trying to remove himself from himself, feeling like his body didn’t belong to him. How could it belong to anyone? “I’m a freak, and I nearly killed my brother.”
“I’m not quite sure what you’re trying to say,” the detective replied. “You set off the explosion?”
Iggy stared the detective straight in the eyes. He knew it would sound crazy, before he even said it. “I was the explosion.”
The detective blinked twice. “Uh, what?”
“One of the dealers pulled a gun, and shot me in the head. And when the bullet hit my brain, it set something off, and I exploded. But, I didn’t. I was still there afterwards. It burned off all my hair and dead skin, and it knocked Javi back. I remember the moment it happened. Everything was whiter and brighter than anything I’ve ever seen…”
“Stop,” the detective said, waving his hands in the air. “Just stop, Ignacio. You’re telling me, that a meth dealer killed you, but when you died, you exploded?”
Iggy felt stupid, and crazy. “You don’t believe me.”
“Oh, what do you think?!” the detective barked. The others in the waiting room looked on, startled. “Your little brother is in there, holding onto life by a thread, and you’re out here making stories, like it’s some damn joke!”
       He loosened his tie, and pointed at Iggy. “Here’s what I think: You’re higher than Granite Peak! You took Javier along for a deal in the woods, but the sellers were the wrong kinda bad. They put a bomb in your bag, and when you went to go take a leak, Javier opened the bag and it went off.”
“Then where’s the meth?” Iggy asked. “There’d be some there somewhere, right?”
“The scene is still fresh,” the detective said, relaxing his shoulders slightly. “But a thorough investigation is underway, and we will find the drugs.”
“And what about my clothes?” Iggy asked. “Why was I completely naked? Where is my hair?”
The detective hesitated for a moment, then winced. “People do strange things on drugs. And a simple court order will let us know exactly what’s in your system. You’re just wasting time.”
“You know something strange happened out there!”
“Enough!” the detective interrupted. “I’m going to get some coffee. When I come back, you’d better have your story straight, or soon the DEA and the ATF will be all the way up your ass, and I won’t be able to help you. They’ll probably try you as an adult. So I want good, solid information on the drugs, the dealers, and the explosive device that almost took your brother’s life.”
       He turned to leave, but paused for a beat, glancing at the double doors of the ICU. “It may yet still.”
Once the detective was gone, Iggy sunk in his chair, thoughts of the plausible and the absurd spinning through his head. Fears of what would happen when he couldn't give a satisfying account to the detective, or to the hot-shot government agents that would follow. But most of all, the fate of Javi. Convincing himself or others of the impossible wouldn’t undo the damage done to him.
Moments later a figure entered the waiting room, with a very distinguishing feature: a mullet. Iggy instantly recognized Ron-Town, despite hiding behind the aviator sunglasses that he borrowed from Orren. Now all Iggy could think about was that sick bastard pointing a gun at Javi, and pulling the trigger. Ron-Town’s hand was buried deep in his hoody’s front pocket, gripping something tightly.
And he was headed straight for the ICU. Finishing the job, and leaving no witnesses.
Iggy sprang from his chair, but Ron-Town was already at the ICU double doors, grabbing a nurse and pointing the gun at her head. “Open the door! Now!”
Everyone in the room screamed and fell to the floor. The detective returned, holding his coffee. He dropped it when he surveyed the scene, and reached for his sidearm. “Freeze!” he screamed, but he was too slow. Ron-Town aimed and shot him in the chest three times. Everyone screamed again, and fled the waiting room.
Everyone except the nurse, Ron-Town, and Iggy.
The shooter pulled the poor nurse by the hair over to the dead detective, picked up his gun, then brought her back to the ICU entryway. “Open the door, or you’ll end up the same!”
       She whimpered, then pressed her keycard up to the pad. It clicked, and Ron-Town let her scramble away. He opened the door that would lead him to Javi.
“Hey!” Iggy screamed. “Come back here!”
Ron-Town only glanced at him briefly, not recognizing Iggy without hair or eyebrows. “Get lost, or you’re dead.”
“Where’s Orren?” Iggy asked.
This stopped the man.
“Is he outside, waiting in that red piece of shit? Or better yet, where’s Keith and Ember? You make sure they’re not gonna tell the cops that you shot at a twelve-year-old? Or did you kill them too?”
Ron-Town removed the sunglasses and slowly turned around, his forehead furrowed and sweaty. His expression was of fear and confusion, and his state of mind was clearly altered at the moment. “I shot you in the face. You exploded.”
“Why did I explode?” Iggy asked. He still wasn’t sure how it happened. Right then, Ron-Town was the only witness present that hadn’t combusted, or was in critical condition.
“It doesn’t matter,” Ron-Town spoke, with dead eyes. “You should be dead. Are you a ghost?” He raised the gun, his hand shaking. But then he lowered it. “You’re not really here. I watched you die. I won’t kill you again. Killing a soul… I reckon that would send me to hell.” He grimaced, then smiled. “Float on, ghostie.”
He turned and pushed the ICU door open all the way.
Iggy screamed, and chased after him. He wasn’t going to let him kill Javi. He wasn’t going to let his little brother die. He still had to wait for him to wake up, and apologize day and night until he forgave him. He had to watch him grow up. He had to make this right.
Iggy jumped on Ron-Town, the two collapsed in the ICU hallway. He grabbed the gun, trying to wrest it from the man’s hands. But his muscles were too weak, and Ron-Town’s strength was boosted by whatever chemicals were in his system. It wouldn’t take but a flinch for him to shrug Iggy off, and continue on his quest. Javi would be slaughtered in his hospital bed. There was only one thing left to do.
Hot tears streamed down Iggy’s face as he pressed his forehead onto the barrel of the gun. He didn’t know if this would work. He had only experienced explosion via bullet-to-the-brain once. If that’s even what happened.
       But the frightened Ron-Town still wouldn’t shoot. He was trying to pull away from this “ghostie”, from what he believed was a drug-induced hallucination. Iggy had to save Javi. He screamed, and pressed on the trigger.
The gun went off. And everything turned brilliantly white.

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