Literary Upstart Finalist: Never Change 

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Kilbey brought the truck to a hard stop. The tires locked and skidded against the gravel. Pale rock smoke circled the truck and leaked into through the open windows. It tasted metallic and keen, but old and chalky like ground fossils. Kilbey crammed the drive lever into park and turned to me. Well, he said, what do you think, man? The smoke from his cigarette and the gravel dust hung casually in the cab. It swirled around him. The sunlight reflected off the cloud, made it glow yellow and gray. Kilbey’s face was almost hidden, but I could still make out his smile. The red eye of his cigarette seemed to float out from his buckled teeth.

You wait here, he said. Goodie Kilbey off the ignition and opened the door. The rusted jambs whined and when Kilbey slammed the door shut, there was a touch of scorn on his face. He leaned in the open window. This guy's a little shaky, you know, kind of a hole-in. I nodded without feeling but somewhere in the back of my mind was a vague sort of understanding.

I watched Kilbey walk up to the house, an old ranch, drying in the mountain air. He looked nervously around him. We parked close enough and I could see the dirty white paint crawling back from the clapboards. The windows were dark. In one a chewed and torn curtain. Two arthritic planks held up the small porch roof. Not much was out here: a dead lawn, an oil drum shot through and purpled with rust, a gray smear of charcoal where a fire must have been, a wind that snapped from the field. Up here, on perhaps the top of a mountain, and all I could see was the low sky and desolation.

Kilbey knocked on the front door. He waited for a few seconds, turned back to me, grinned, and then turned back to the door. I began to wonder how much planning Kilbey had actually done. The front door cracked open. I couldn't see anybody, but I could see Kilbey’s lips moving and I heard the faint gabble of speech. At first he was amiable, confident. Then, immediately, his face went blank, his smile straightened out. He started to move his hands around in beckoning gestures, he pointed to me and I waved at the pitch crack of the doorway. Who was I waving at?

Now Kilbey was frantic, flailing his arms in the air. A flash lit up the doorway, illuminating the lines of an old woman's face, a rifle blast. The crows scattered from the trees that surrounded the field. Kilbey stumbled back, gripping his upper thigh. He ran towards the truck as best he could, slinging the shot leg forward with his arms, and ripped open the passenger door. I slid quickly over to the driver's seat. Instinctually I gassed the truck to life and yanked it into gear. The tires spun, spat out gravel like loose teeth, gripped and pushed the truck into motion. We rocked down the driveway, bouncing out of our seats.

Kilbey reached in between the seats and brought out a stained rag. He wrapped it around his thigh with scary precision, a dark blot soaked through the cloth. Fuck, he said, wrong house, man. Kilbey patted both breast pockets of his jumpsuit for a cigarette, his bloody hands leaving red prints, like wings, across his chest.


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