Zach was glad he didn't have any sisters. Sitting in the far back seat of the Stones' cherry-red minivan, he listened to Tina and Amy Stone nag their younger sister, Bunny. Sunday, and they were on their way to church, though the Stones didn't call it church—they called it sacrament meeting because they were Mormons.
Bunny, who was eight, picked at a nub in the calf of her pantyhose, causing it to run. Her sisters noticed and tried to swat her hand away, but Bunny, it seemed, was tired of being told what to do. She stared away from them and out the window, pushing a couple of fingers inside the hole.
"You're making it worse," Tina said. "Bunny, stop."
Bunny slipped off her white Mary Janes and tucked her feet up under herself. The hole stretched and ran up her leg, disappearing under the hem of the dress her sisters had forced her to wear.
Tina, sixteen and in a perpetual state of impatience, made an angry throat-clearing sound, and Amy said, "Mama, I can't. She's impossible."
"Girls," said Mrs. Stone from the passenger seat, "think for a second about where we're going. Think about who's listening to you."
Zach thought at first that she was referring to him, but then he realized that she was talking about God. The Stones talked about God a lot.
Tina and Amy slumped in their seats and their guilty silence filled the vehicle. Zach was relieved. An only child himself, all the bickering made him nervous.
Dr. Stone was driving. The van turned onto Bayview Drive and the East Hawk Cemetery loomed up on the left side, rows and rows of marbled stones dipping in and out of sight on the hilly landscape. There weren't many places in Northwestern Ontario that were flat enough for a graveyard.
"You know, this is the dead centre of town," Dr. Stone said in his nasally midwestern drawl. He glanced at Zach in the rearview mirror, a grin on his round, pink face. Zach forced an appreciative chuckle. In front of him, Tina sighed and studied the white moons on her fingernails, and Amy pulled her hair over to one shoulder.
Zach's skin prickled under his clothes. It was mid-July and hot and he couldn't remember the last time he had worn long pants. His mother had thrown a pair of dark jeans into his suitcase at the last minute, in case he needed "something nice." He wore them with his only collared shirt, a black polo with an Atom logo on the breast pocket from the one season he'd played hockey when he was ten.
He was staying with the Stones for two weeks while his mother and stepfather honeymooned in British Columbia. His mother knew Mrs. Stone from Parent Council at East Hawk Elementary.
Zach looked at Amy through the gap between the middle seats, noting the shape of her breasts in her grapefruit-coloured dress. He knew Amy better than the other two girls because they'd been in school together since kindergarten. They would both be starting grade seven in September. He had not been excited about spending two weeks in the same house as Amy Stone. She was bossy and prissy and said things like, "Honestly, I'm indifferent," and "Basically, you're in over your head," and now, to make things worse, he found he couldn't even look at her without imagining her naked. She wasn't particularly thin, which meant she had more going on than a lot of the other girls her age. So, despite her modest clothing, it was easy to imagine the private places her freckles disappeared into. Tits and ass, Zach thought, and then he tried to erase the words from his mind.
He thought about what Mrs. Stone had said about God listening to the girls. Did God just listen or did he watch, too? Could he read thoughts? He imagined God as a ghost passenger in the minivan and tried to clear his mind. His eyes fell on the hula girl wobbling on the dashboard—a tacky souvenir from the Stones' annual spring vacation to Hawaii. There were things all over their house, too—Aloha keychains, flip-flop fridge magnets, cups covered in palm trees, with glittery blue liquid sloshing around between two layers of clear plastic. Zach found it hard to imagine anyone actually paying money for these kinds of things. It seemed more likely that they just materialized in corners, like dust.
Did God just listen or did he watch, too? Could he read thoughts? He imagined God as a ghost passenger in the minivan and tried to clear his mind.
The hula girl wiggled in her green grass skirt and yellow plastic bikini top. He could feel himself starting to get an erection. The hula girl was looking right back at him, smiling sweetly. He looked away and imagined a grimy wheel on a shopping cart, the most unsexy thing he could think of.
In front of him, Bunny Stone reached up and touched the choppy bunches of her hair, as if she were touching a shy animal. That morning, Zach had woken up early and gone down the hall to the bathroom, where he found Bunny holding a pair of kitchen shears and standing in front of the oval mirror with its gilt frame and little sticky notes and cards: "You look beautiful today!", "If you can dream it, you can do it!" Quotes by Helen Keller, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Walt Disney copied out in gel pen and glitter glue. Bunny had looked at him with a kind of ferocity, a wildness that reminded him of a stray cat his mother had once accidentally locked in the garage overnight, the look on its face when they opened the door in the morning.
Behind Bunny, Tina's red towel and Amy's orange one hung neatly on their hooks beneath the window, each embroidered with their names in rainbow thread. The third hook sat blankly on the wall. Bunny's yellow towel was on the floor at her feet, collecting the long, pale shanks of hair as they fell.
The Mormon church was all the way on the other side of town, located in a sunny clearing between the forest and Highway 17. A small crowd mingled on the lawn in front of the doors. The women wore mostly calf-length dresses, pastels and florals, or skirts and collared blouses. The men wore white shirts and ties, like Dr. Stone. A bunch of kids ran around and a few boys Zach's age stood straight as pylons in dress pants and oily black shoes.
Amy took Zach around and introduced him as her friend from school. "Isn't he cute?" she said, and Zach tried to keep from scowling.
"Welcome, welcome," everyone said to him.
He overheard a woman saying to Bunny, "Sweetheart… your hair." Other people regarded Bunny for a few seconds too long and gave each other meaningful looks.
Zach saw Amy look at Tina with raised eyebrows and Tina shake her head in response. There had been tears that morning when Bunny came out of the bathroom. Mrs. Stone locked herself in her bedroom and didn't come out until it was time to leave the house. Tina went at Bunny's head with a pair of nail scissors, trying in vain to even it out. And then Bunny lay on her bedroom floor while Amy and Tina pushed her ragdoll limbs into pantyhose and a dress.
As everyone began to file into the church, Zach looked back and saw Mrs. Stone hastily wiping her eyes with a Kleenex.
The sanctuary was a plain room with white walls, rows of wooden benches, and a grey carpet with bits of teal thread in it.
"Zach, come." Amy took him by the elbow. "You can sit beside me."
Zach had only been inside a church once before, for his grandmother's funeral when he was five. A United church in Toronto, the city his mother grew up in. He remembered singing hymns from cloth-covered books with soft, yellow pages, and thinking that the coloured-glass windows looked like candy. He remembered seeing his grandmother's body inside the gleaming coffin, and going to the cemetery afterwards, where a big metal contraption lowered her into the ground. When Zach's father died four years later he had expected a similar procedure, but at that point his parents had already been separated for years. He hadn't even seen his father during that time and didn't remember very much about him, except that he was big and tall, and he yelled a lot, even when he wasn't mad. He had been living in a town in northern Manitoba called The Pas. When Zach asked his mother if they would be going to the funeral, she frowned and shook her head. Later she told him that there hadn't been a funeral anyway—a few of his father's friends and family members held a memorial service instead.
"What about his body?" Zach had asked.
"Cremated," his mother said while doing a series of flows on the living room rug. She'd discovered yoga soon after she sent Zach's father packing, as she liked to say. Zach pressed her for details. He hadn't known what it meant to be cremated. His mother explained how they burned his body in a big furnace. Then took his ashes and funneled them into a jar.
Zach tried to imagine his father—long-limbed and bulky like a grizzly bear—small enough to slide through a funnel. Small enough to fit inside a jar. "What did they do with the jar?" he asked.
His mother had lain on her back in corpse pose. "I haven't any idea."
The sacrament meeting began with hymns sung from a book with a glossy, hard cover and a spine so stiff and new it cracked when opened. They sang about dreams, streams, eternity, and Jehovah, Lord of heav'n and earth, and then they sat down and a silver-haired man in a suit got up and talked about straight and veering paths and the ordinance of the sacrament. Dr. Stone, who was sitting on Zach's other side, put his arm across the back of Zach's chair. Zach stopped listening after a while, but the church was comfortably cool, and the man's voice made for pleasant background noise. He looked down the row. Tina at the end, her back straight and her eyes focused on the speaker. Bunny next to her, one leg curled under the other and the toe of her shoe prodding the gaping hole in her tights. He looked sideways at Amy. Her hands in her lap, head tilted back, eyes closed. Zach shifted and looked at the carpet, trying to find shapes in the thread pattern. He found an arrowhead, twin foxes, a snake, and a monkey face that reminded him of Donkey Kong before they were asked to stand and sing again. There was more talking and praying and then a team of teenaged boys in crisp white shirts and neat haircuts passed out little paper cups of water and crusts of bread from trays.
Zach swallowed his bread and water along with everyone else and waited to feel something. But the bread stuck in his throat, and the water only made him realize how badly he needed to pee.
When he came out of the men's room, everyone was splitting into Sunday School groups. Mrs. Stone brushed past him in the hallway, looking distracted. She gestured with a limp hand. "You can join the men," she said. "Sanctuary." And then she was gone.
Zach swallowed his bread and water along with everyone else and waited to feel something.
Standing outside the sanctuary, he heard the thrum of men's voices. He couldn't bring himself to open the door. He imagined a sea of neat heads turning towards him, looking him over and recognizing in that moment his distinct godlessness.
Down the hallway, every door had been pulled shut. He peered through one of the glass panes and saw the women sitting around a table. Mrs. Stone with her back to him. Amy's strawberry blonde head.
He kept walking and found the room where the younger kids were gathered. They sang about the Holy Ghost, the jumble of shrill voices causing the glass to rattle in its frame. He stood outside for a moment but nobody looked over.
In the lobby, a quilt hung on the wall, the words "Families are Forever" stitched into it. No one was around, but he pretended to be interested in the posters and flyers pinned to a cork board with coloured thumbtacks.
He thought about his mother, what she might be doing right at that moment. Probably meditating with her new husband on a sunny hardwood floor in their rented cabin. She'd met Ray just over a year earlier at a Body Mind workshop he was leading in the next town over. He was half Jamaican and born and raised in Toronto, like Zach's mother. He took pleasure in simple things, like thunderstorms and sunsets that were especially orange. He used words that he thought were funny when he didn't know what something was actually called, like the wooden massage tool he used to work out a kink in his neck. A bizarre-looking thing, a tripod with a ball on each end. "My neck's really sore this morning," Ray would say. "Has anyone seen my doppelgänger?"
"He's just so mellow," Zach had overheard his mother telling her sister on the phone one night. "You remember how Giles was always so intense?" Giles was Zach's father. Another time, Zach had overheard her telling someone over the phone that Giles was a sex addict. "He had a sickness," she said. "He was a sick man."
Outside in the gravel parking lot, the cars clicked and crackled with static and the sun broiled in a white sky. On the other side of the road there was a farmer's field dotted with clumps of yellow grass and wildflowers. Zach walked a little ways into the woods behind the church where it was cooler. He picked up a few flat stones and slipped them into his pocket to skip on the lake later.
Turning back towards the parking lot, he saw someone crossing the lawn in front of the church. He shielded his eyes against the sun and saw that it was Bunny, her legs bare, skirt tied in a knot above her knees. She walked down to the highway, jumped over the ditch and stood on the shoulder. For a moment, Zach thought she might stick out her thumb for a ride. But then she whirled around and came back up. She noticed Zach just as she was about to re-enter the church. She stopped and stared at him. They stared at each other, and Zach was about to lift his hand and wave, but she yanked open the door and disappeared inside.
Nobody said anything about Zach skipping Sunday School. He figured they didn't mind because he wasn't a real Mormon anyways. When they got home from church, Mrs. Stone served up potato chips and strawberries for lunch, and packed a picnic supper of cheese sandwiches on Wonderbread for the beach. At the Stones', Zach could eat as much junk food as he liked. They kept flats of pop in their garage, a wall of them—Cream Soda, Root Beer, Orange Crush. Any time he liked, he could step into the garage through a door in the front entranceway and take his drink of choice. He wasn't allowed pop at home, only orange juice for breakfast.
It was a ten-minute walk down to East Hawk Lake. The Stones set up their blanket in a sunny patch of grass on the ledge that dropped down one foot to the sand. Tina spread her school books out on her own personal blanket a few feet away. "I'm getting behind," she said when Dr. Stone chided her for studying on a Sunday. Tina was doing an independent study of Medieval Europe. Up until now, Zach had never known anyone who took summer school voluntarily.
Amy wore a purple one-piece bathing suit with a little green ruffle at the waist, and practised diving from the swim dock. Zach showed off, standing on the rails of the dock ladder and doing a cannonball into the water. When he re-emerged, Amy was cheering. "That was the biggest splash I've ever seen!" she called, and Zach ducked back underwater to hide his grin.
Bunny had a net and a bucket and wandered knee-deep through the rocks and reeds on the far right side of the beach.
"Bunny, come back!" Zach heard Tina holler from the shore. "You're gonna get leeches."
Bunny waved as if to say, "Yeah, yeah," and kept right on going. In shorts and an oversized T-shirt, with her hair cut short, she looked like a boy.
Over in the grass, some jock guys Zach knew from school were kicking a soccer ball. They didn't notice him. They never did. They were the same guys he had seen there the day before, digging up clay and rolling it into a ball around a live crayfish. Zach had caught a glimpse of its whiskered face and one waving pincher before the guys, guffawing, packed clay on top of it, effectively burying it alive.
A light wind picked up. Zach went over to where Bunny sat on the beach with a bucket full of minnows.
"Can I see?" He was already looking and Bunny didn't say anything. The minnows swam in circles in the blue plastic shade, their bodies green and silver and striped purple. "Cool," he said.
After a moment Bunny picked up the bucket and waded into the water. A few feet from shore, she tipped it over and the minnows spilled out in a flickering stream.
Back at the blanket, everyone sat and ate their sandwiches. Dr. Stone lounged on a sun-warmed rock. "I'd like to take the boat out sometime this week," he said. "Maybe Friday. Hey, Zach, how'd you like to go fishing?"
"Yeah, okay!" Zach felt like he'd been waiting his whole life for someone to offer to take him fishing. He'd never been, despite having grown up in a lake town.
"Will you take us tubing, Daddy?" Amy said.
"I can't get these girls interested in the old rod and line," Dr. Stone said.
"I like fishing," Bunny said. It was the most anyone had heard her speak all day.
"Bun only likes to go if we can turn 'em loose after," said Dr. Stone. "But there's nothing like fresh fish on the barbie. Eh, Babs?" Dr. Stone put his arm around his wife.
After supper, Zach walked with Dr. Stone to the corner store to get popsicles for everyone. On the way back, Dr. Stone put his hand on the back of Zach's neck in a fatherly way.
The popsicle juice ran down their arms and chins. When they were done, Zach, Tina, Amy and Bunny ran into the lake to rinse off. Then they sat, shivering, wrapped in beach towels. The sun dimmed. Mrs. Stone reached out and smoothed a few pieces of Bunny's spiky wet hair.
"I'm sorry, Mama," Bunny said into her towel.
Mrs. Stone's eyes glinted and she looked like she wanted to say something important, but then she just said, "Honey."
That night in the shower, Zach thought about Amy. He tried not to, but there were a couple of hairpins on the ledge leaving rust stains on the white enamel. He thought about Amy taking her hair down in the shower. He imagined her with him in the shower, her body slippery-wet. Still wearing her one-piece bathing suit. He stood behind her and loosened the straps from her shoulders, first one and then the other. She did the rest, sliding the little green ruffle down her hips and bending over to step out of it.
He aimed at the drain, then rinsed himself off and got out onto the flowered bathmat, telling himself, like he did every time, that this would be the last time.
On Wednesday morning the kitchen radio said it was the hottest day Northwestern Ontario had seen so far that summer, with high humidity and temperatures well into the thirties. Overnight, the humidity broke and it rained. It was still raining in the morning, and carried on into the afternoon. Tina was studying at the library, and Dr. Stone was at the optometry clinic where he worked. Mrs. Stone had to take Bunny to a doctor's appointment.
"Call Daddy at the clinic if you need anything," she said on her way out the door. "I won't be gone long."
Rain clattered on the skylight above the island in the kitchen. Amy lay upside down on the orange couch by the window. "What do you want to do?" she asked Zach.
Zach had imagined many scenarios in which he was left alone in a house with Amy. Now he found himself wishing that there was at least one other person at home. "Do you have any video games?"
"Oh, sure," Amy said. "Some."
"Do you have Mario Kart?"
"No," she said. "But we have Disney Dress-Up!"
"Get real," Zach said. "I'm not playing that."
"I'm only kidding, silly. Let's go downstairs. I think we might have Tetris."
In the cool of the basement, they passed the controller back and forth, taking turns lining up the coloured blocks as they fell. Their arms were so close they were almost touching. Zach imagined his arm hairs were reaching for hers. He imagined hers were reaching back.
After a while they got bored and Amy shut off the TV. She turned sideways on the couch towards Zach, who sat on the edge with his hands in his lap. He tried not to look at her sprawled on the couch like that, her hair in a disheveled spray of a ponytail. "What should we do now?" she asked him.
"I don't know," he said. "How long 'til your mom gets back from the doctor?"
"I'm going to tell you something," Amy said. "But you can't say I said anything."
"Okay," Zach said.
Zach leaned back into the couch and shifted over a little bit. He turned a quarter of the way so that he was almost facing her. Amy slid towards him. Up close, her freckles were the colour of ripe apricots.
"Bunny isn't really seeing a doctor," Amy said. "Well, she is. But not the kind of doctor you think." She paused. For dramatic effect, Zach thought, but then he saw something twist across her face, something he couldn't name. "Mama's taking her to see a psychiatrist."
"Oh." Zach thought for a minute. "How come?"
"Because she doesn't like being a girl." Amy studied her fingernails. There were freckles on her hands too, a cluster of them on her right thumb knuckle. "Mama and Daddy thought it was just a tomboy phase. But it's getting worse. They think she might be sick."
"Oh," Zach said.
"Mama and Daddy thought it was just a tomboy phase. But it's getting worse. They think she might be sick."
"Let me see your hand." Amy turned his right hand so the palm faced up and traced the lines with her finger. Zach shivered. "I'm going to tell you your future," she said in a mystical voice. And then in her normal voice she said, "Just kidding. Only God can tell the future." She stopped tracing and put her hand on top of his. She was close enough that Zach could smell her shampoo. Her T-shirt pulled tight across her chest and he could see that she wore a bra, but it was a sports bra and he could still make out the little tent shapes of her nipples. Her lips parted—she was about to say something—and then he felt himself lean in and put his mouth over hers. He felt her hot breath, her tongue, and her breast, surprisingly firm under his hand, but he couldn't recall making the decision to put his hand there. It all happened in about three seconds, before she jerked away from him, her face flushed and shining.
"What are you doing?" she yelled at him, and then she ran upstairs, leaving him alone with the feeling of his blood surging through him, first hot and then cold.
He lay on his bed in the guest bedroom, watching a shadow pattern of leaves moving on the ceiling. He knew Amy was in her room, probably waiting for her mother to come home so she could tell her what he had done. He figured she would tell a version of the story where she was sitting several feet away from him when it happened. He figured she would use the word "attack." But it didn't matter—either way, what he had done was wrong.
When Mrs. Stone finally did come home it was close to five o'clock and Dr. Stone was with her. He could hear their voices in the kitchen. He heard Bunny go into her bedroom, across the hall from his, and shut the door. He waited, but Amy stayed in her room until a half-hour later when Mrs. Stone called that supper was ready.
At the table, everyone was quiet except Tina, who rambled on about feudalism and how, in medieval times, animals could be tried and sentenced for crimes, like people.
"No one's even listening," she said eventually, and while her parents jumped in to assure her that this was not true, Zach stole a glance at Amy. She picked at her pasta salad, her hair around her face.
He expected he would be thrown out, once she told her parents what had happened. "And to think," Dr. Stone would say, his face more red, this time, than pink, "to think I was going to take you fishing." They would call his mother, make arrangements for him to stay elsewhere until she and Ray returned home. He tried to picture what his mother's face would look like when they told her what he had done. He imagined the pinched look she got whenever someone mentioned his father.
By bedtime she still hadn't told. At one point in the evening, Zach had observed Dr. and Mrs. Stone and Amy and Tina gathered around the island in the kitchen, their heads close together, voices low, and he had waited on the stairs, his stomach twisting. But when they finally broke apart and Mrs. Stone started towards him, he saw no anger on her face. She gave him a weary, sidelong smile and continued past him into her bedroom.
He tracked Amy's movement through the house, to the kitchen for a night snack, into the bathroom to brush her teeth, back into her room with the door shut. Why was she dragging it out? To punish him? That had to be it. She would leave it just long enough that he would start to feel safe again, and then she'd drop the bomb.
He couldn't sleep. He waited until everybody else had gone to bed, and when the house quieted he went into the kitchen for a glass of water. He had just returned to his room when he heard a door across the hall click open and then shut again. For a moment he panicked, thinking it might be Amy creeping off to her parents' room. Then he remembered that the door directly across from his was Bunny's. He took a breath and poked his head out. The hallway was dark, the bathroom empty. Out in the main room, everything was as it should be, except for a whisper of fresh, cool air. Something caught his eye through the big window that faced the backyard—a flashlight beam bouncing around in the blackness. He stepped quietly out onto the deck. It had stopped raining and the air smelled earthy and metallic, everything dripping slowly, recovering. It was a half-moon, but still bright enough that he could see where he was going. He walked barefoot through the wet grass to the edge of the yard where there was a fire pit with stumps positioned around it for seats. Bunny sat on one of the stumps, fussing with something at her feet.
"What are you doing?"
She stiffened, but then relaxed slightly when she saw who it was. She stood up. "Go away."
"What is that?" Zach moved closer. Bunny didn't answer, just looked at him severely. The flashlight sat on the ground, casting light through a clear plastic Tupperware container filled with greenish water and some black things. The black things were moving. "Oh my God," Zach said. "Are those leeches?"
At least a dozen of them. Some were small, but the biggest ones were as long as Zach's longest finger. On the bigger ones, he could see a line of red spots down the length of their backs.
"How did you get all these?" He crouched to get a better look.
"Beach," said Bunny.
"How long have you had them?"
Bunny shrugged. "Been collecting them. I keep them under my bed."
"How are they still alive?"
She hesitated and then showed him the pad of her thumb, where a bruise swelled, a reddish scab at its centre.
"Ho-lyy," Zach said. They were quiet, watching the leeches move through the water. "Bloodsuckers."
"You better go," Bunny said.
"Hey, wait. What are you going to do with them?"
Bunny looked in the direction of the trees. "Nothing."
"Come on, tell me."
She moved from one foot and then to the other. She looked at the house, a dark shape in the moonlight, and then she reached into her pocket, pulled out a folded piece of paper and handed it to Zach. She picked up the flashlight and held it for him.
It was a page from a textbook. He could tell by the glossiness of the paper. A photocopied image of an old diagram, a sketch of a man's body zipped open to show the crude shapes of his internal organs. Black lines indicated points on the man's body—his head, arms, legs, feet, and even his penis. Zach cringed. Underneath the image were the words "Fig. 76 – Points for blood-letting, 1317."
"I found it in one of Tina's books," Bunny said. "Leeches were used to suck out the bad blood when someone was sick."
Zach didn't say anything. His stomach turned, but in kind of a pleasant way, like it did sometimes when he saw weird stuff on TV—Siamese twins, pythons swallowing live animals.
Bunny looked at the Tupperware. "You think I'm a freak."
"No," Zach said, but he wasn't sure he meant it. He watched one of the leeches swim to the surface of the water, its body rippling like a piece of ribbon.
"Will you do it with me?"
Zach dragged his eyes away from the leeches. "What?"
Bunny had been avoiding his gaze, but now she looked at him imploringly. "I have some extra."
He wanted to say no. He wanted to turn around and go back into the house. But somehow he knew that leaving Bunny to do this alone would be wrong.
He wanted to say no. He wanted to turn around and go back into the house. But somehow he knew that leaving Bunny to do this alone would be wrong, and he had done enough wrong things for one day. He watched the leeches swimming, twisting like little commas and question marks, and recalled the feeling of Amy's mouth under his, his tongue shooting forward and hers recoiling. "Okay," he said at last. "As long as I don't have to put any on my— " He pointed to the picture, between the man's legs.
Bunny giggled. "No," she said. "Not there."
They sat side-by-side on stumps and rolled up their shorts. Bunny put her hand into the Tupperware and picked up one of the leeches. She turned her leg and placed it on the back of her knee and it attached with its little black sucker mouth. "You have to put 'em where there's veins." She put one on the other knee, one on each calf, and then she moved on to her arms.
"Does it hurt?" Zach asked.
"No." Bunny winced. "No, not really."
Zach picked one up and put it in the crook of his elbow. He felt a tug as it attached. He reached for more.
"How do we know when they're done?" he asked a while later, bending over to watch the leeches at work on his legs.
"Don't know," Bunny said. Then, "We'll know."
She had a leech attached to each of her temples, their tails flicking out from under the shaggy scraps of her hair. Zach wasn't brave enough to put any on his face, and he wondered at Bunny's determination.
It was a weird feeling, but not entirely unpleasant. The leeches seemed to be getting fatter, and his skin, around each one, had turned red. He started to wonder if it was possible that it would work, that they would be able to clean the sickness right out of him. He thought he felt different already. Lighter, like he'd been dragging around extra weight his whole life.
After a while, Bunny said, "Okay."
"That's probably enough. Don't you think?" She produced a salt shaker from the pocket of her shorts.
"Whoa," Zach said. "Doesn't that kill them?" He had thought they would just pick them off at the end, put them back in the container. Perhaps return them to the lake.
Bunny nodded gravely. "We have to bury them now, because of the bad blood."
"Is that what the book said?"
"No. I just think it makes sense." She sprinkled salt on a leech on her calf. It curled up and let go. "I'm sorry," she said to it. A thin stream of blood started down her leg. She spoke softly to each one. Zach hesitated, then reached out to help her with the ones on her face before moving on to his own.
When it was over, there was a small mound of dead leeches on the ground at Zach's feet, a slightly bigger pile in front of Bunny. Some of the leeches had almost doubled in size, and the amount of blood still seeping from Zach's wounds was impressive. It didn't hurt much, and he liked the feeling of it running out of him.
Bunny had smears of blood on her cheeks. She gathered the leeches into the pouch of her shirt, and Zach followed suit. They went to the edge of the trees where there was no grass and the ground was softer, then dug holes with their hands and scooped the leeches in.
"Wait," Bunny said when Zach went to pile the dirt back on. "We have to pray."
"Heavenly Father," Bunny said. "Please bless these lives. Thank you for all the things you have given me, and please forgive my sins. Help me find the path set out for me by Jesus Christ, Our Savior. In his name, amen."
Zach said, "Ditto." And then he added, "Ashes to ashes, dust to dust," because that's what the minister had said at his grandmother's graveside.
Then they buried the leeches, patting the dirt down firmly. Zach stood up and watched some fireflies bumping around in the woods. The night air smelled fresh and clean, and he wanted to believe that the bad urges had washed out along with whatever blood he'd inherited from his father. Even if Amy did tell her parents what he had done, by morning they would all see that he had changed, and he would be forgiven. He would be allowed to stay and Dr. Stone would take him fishing on Friday.
Ellie Sawatzky is a fiction writer and poet from Northwestern Ontario. Her prose and poetry have appeared in Room, The Puritan, Prairie Fire, EVENT, the anthology Best New Poets 2014, and others. Her poem "Finlandia" won second place in FreeFall Magazine's annual poetry contest in 2016. She holds an MFA from the University of British Columbia's Creative Writing program.