Sacrifice on the Bleachers
I never liked how Mr. Chipahua looked at Yarely, his shiny black eyes boring into her like she was an adder in his classroom, a creature of death. He never called on her and was careful not to touch her hand when she turned in an assignment. He graded her without mercy and week after week her grades slipped. In desperation, she had no choice but to turn to him for help after school. I would wait for her everyday, kicking stones around the parking lot and ducking behind the teachers’ cars to smoke. I saw it happening. I saw her change from abhorring Mr. Chipahua to speaking about him with awed reverence like a novice speaks of her savior. I knew something was wrong, knew he was getting into her head and reconnecting her synapses because everything was firing wrong. And when her body was discovered, decapitated and missing its heart, I knew he did it.
“Josh! Hello!” Casper snapped his fingers next to my ear, jolting me back to life. “You okay?”
I looked at Casper. His dishwater blond hair was combed back like a fifties greaser, but everything else about him screamed Hollister. He took being laid back to a new height, so the actual concern on his face must mean he saw me heading for a serious break with reality.
“Sorry, man. I zoned out.”
A lot of people attempted condolences or tried to cheer me up. If Casper saw our conversation heading anywhere near a Yarely related topic, he stopped, and bolted the conversation in another direction. In the weeks since her death, he had rapidly become my best friend.
“So I was thinking of bungee jumping off the 5th Street Bridge tonight. You in?” Casper asked, his thin lips curved up in a half smile.
“Seriously? The city’s going to let us jump off the bridge?”
Casper just shook his head.
“Huh?” Illegal bungee jumping with what I could only assume were instructions off YoutTube. The chances of splattering headfirst into traffic on the street below seemed a decent possibility. “Yeah. Sounds awesome.”
“Great. I’ll see you there. 11:30. Laters.” Casper walked off down the hall. A couple seconds later, the bell went off.
I slunk down the hallway to my last class, World History with Mr. Chipahau. I did not look at him when I ducked into the classroom and headed to the back row. I settled myself into the desk with a low creak, crossed my arms, and began my daily stare down of him. I had done this every school day since I had returned three weeks ago, glared at Mr. Chipahua and watched his every move for some sign of his guilt. He was a man who did not crack easily. Even today, he met my eyes and held them with no flinch of remorse. But I continued my visual interrogation.
“Josh, I need to speak with you a moment,” Mr. Chipahua said after class, shooting me a look. I really wanted to refuse; I had an arsenal of comments I could throw at him as I stormed out. But instead I sat rooted to my desk like Atlas pinned beneath the weight of the world. What if he said something about Yarely? What if he slipped and gave me the proof I needed?
After all the other students had filed out, bumping and bouncing together out into the hallway, he came and perched on the desk in front of me, starring down like a vulture watching its prey’s last moments. I stared back in silence.
“I overheard you and Casper. Bungee jumping is a pretty dangerous hobby.”
“What’s it to you?” my answer snarled out before I could smother it.
“Oh, nothing really,” he replied calmly looking down to brush some imagined lint off of his vest. “I just thought you wanted to end up the same place Yarely did.”
I stood up so fast, the desk toppled over noisily as I lunged for him. I gripped his crisp white shirt in my fist enjoying the crunch of fabric between my fingers.
“What did you do you to her?” I screamed.
Mr. Chipahua reached up and grabbed the arm holding him, squeezing with strength I would have never thought he possessed under his perfectly pressed clothes. My grip began to falter.
“I made sure she went straight to the highest level of Heaven,” he explained in a chillingly soft voice. “If you jump off a bridge, how many layers of the afterlife do you think will be between you and her?”
His hold on me tightened past my threshold and I released him. I tried to jerk free, but he held me in place. His eyes raked over me like he was a rancher debating over whether to purchase a new bull.
“You’re strong, Josh. The Gods would be pleased at your sacrifice, if you were brave enough to follow in Yarely’s path.”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“Yarely, Josh. Don’t you love her? Don’t you want to spend eternity with her?” He shook me once. “I can make that happen. I can make it happen tonight.”
I looked at his face, expecting to see mockery and lies, but instead all I could read in his tanned features was fervent truth. He believed everything he was telling me. I had never really thought about what eternity might hold for me, but what I did know was if there was a Heaven, or anything, I did not want to exist one minute of it without Yarely.
“Fine. Kill me too.” Mr. Chipahua beamed a confident smile. Did he ever doubt I would refuse?
In minutes, we were speeding away from the school in his sleek silver car. We drove for an hour or so, Mr. Chipahua going on about Gods and rituals the whole ride, until he pulled into the parking lot of a high school. The letters on the front sign had all fallen off and the building was all peeling paint and loose bricks. No one had learned anything here for a long time.
Mr. Chipahua unlocked the chain holding the front door closed and pushed it open with a rusty groan. I followed him through the dark halls toward an intense drumbeat that echoed against the lockers. When we entered the gym, I almost changed my mind. The gym was lit with torches, the flames throwing shadows on the group of people dressed like jaguars and leopards dancing at the base of the bleachers. On top on the bleachers, an altar had been set up with a large carved stone.
As I stared, a boy was lead up the red steps and stretched over the stone. Four men held his wrists and ankles, pulling him taut. Another man, bare-chested but with painted snakes curling up his arms, came up to the stone. The fire flickered off an object he raised. I realized it was a knife as he plunged it into the boy who jerked violently. The snake-man quickly shoved his arm elbow deep and pulled out the boy’s heart as the his body shuddered. I did not understand the words the snake-man shouted, but Mr. Chipahua had explained the basics to me of repaying a blood-debt to the Gods, of sacrificing a few so the many may live. The snake-man placed the heart in a bowl while the others tossed his body down the bleachers like a wayward volleyball to the crowd below. They fell upon him, cutting off his head and bartering over the limbs.
I almost puked. I almost ran away. I almost went crazy. But then I remember how Yarely’s eyes would soften as I pulled her close, how her hair smelled of orange juice and syrup when I ran my fingers through it, how her full lips would press into mine and it would feel like the world had shattered and the only thing left was us. There was no way I was walking away from a chance of eternity with her.
“It’s time, Josh,” Mr. Chipahua said into my ear. “Take off your shirt and then follow me up the steps.”
I nodded and did as he said. The bleachers creaked and moaned as Mr. Chipahua and I climbed. Half way up my foot slipped. I caught myself with my hand and when I stood back up, it was red, coated in blood from the bleachers. As I approached the altar, Mr. Chipahua stayed behind me, escorting me to my death.
“Don’t worry, Josh,” he said to my back. “I have dibs on eating you so you won’t be hacked to pieces.”
I didn’t even turn around to glare at him. I was so close I could almost taste her, feel her breath upon my cheek.
I did not feel the obsidian blade split my flesh, but I felt the snake-man’s hand invade my body. My chest jerked violently and his hand withdrew, taking my heart with it. I saw the red pulsating mass raised up before darkness clouded my eyes. It was not blackness, but dark brown eyes that blocked out the light and I felt her lips pressed against my own.