Originally published in Richmond’s Style Weekly. May 2008.

Last summer Wayne’s granddad gave him a vial of poison. The bottle was small and green and featured a skull and crossbones on the label.

“I think you’re old enough to have it now,” his granddad said. “I stole it off a German at the end of the war. Maybe you can use it one day on one of your enemies.”

“Thanks, granddad. Are you sure?”

“Of course,” he said. “I know you will use it wisely.”

Aside from his Rambo survivor knife, the poison was Wayne’s most cherished possession. He kept it hidden on the top shelf of his chest of drawers, along with his Ken Griffey Jr. rookie card.

Wayne never told anyone about the gift. His grandfather had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s a few months earlier, and Wayne had been told to report any unusual activity.

“If he does anything weird, like complain about spies in the attic, let me know,” his mother said.

Wayne had the chance to use the poison a few weeks later, after his friend Jerry betrayed him. Jerry was one of the most popular kids at school. He was charming, athletic and excelled at Cub Scouts. He was also the first boy in class to put his hand down a girl’s pants.

But Jerry, for all his strengths, was insecure. One afternoon he began telling classmates that Wayne’s mother worshipped Satan.

“She and a bunch of other kooks go to City Park every night and make fires and praise Satan,” he told them. “Then they have sex with each other and do drugs.”

In recent weeks Wayne had begun selling chewing tobacco on the playground. Every Thursday Wayne stole all the chew he could from a drugstore, selling it to his classmates the next day for two bucks a pouch. The new business made Wayne the most popular kid in class. At least until the rumors started.

A kid named Pete finally told Wayne what Jerry had been saying.

“He says she wears a black robe and leads them through chants,” Pete said. “It’s scary stuff. I sometimes get nightmares.”

“Jerry’s a dead man,” Wayne told Pete.

The next week Wayne decided to put several drops of poison in Jerry’s pouch. Wayne sold it to his foe the next morning. Before class, Jerry had a chew on the basketball court. Nothing happened. “Why was it taking so long?” Wayne thought to himself. In the movies they died instantly. Maybe he didn’t use enough.

Jerry lived. He even had another chew that day at recess. Wayne went home that afternoon and tasted the poison. He didn’t die either. He had seen fake poison at the magic shop. This was probably the same stuff. He was pissed at his granddad. He decided to leave the bottle on his granddad’s nightstand. He wanted to humiliate the old fool.

Author: Caine O'Rear

Caine O'Rear is a writer and editor based in Mobile, Alabama. He is the former editor in chief of American Songwriter Magazine. Follow him at www.instagram.com/caineorear.

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