One day, when I thought Teresa had left me alone for the rest of the summer, she barged into my room, knocking over the doll house that I had just assembled perfectly. Barbie was reading a magazine in her bathtub, and I was just minding my own business, trying to go through my dresses to find the best one to wear to the grocery store with Mom. My bully of a cousin came crashing into my room, yelling about playing outside with her.
“Why do you want me to come outside with you? Don’t you have all your stupid boy friends?” I asked.
“Yeah, I do, but they all want you to come outside, too. They won’t stop talking about why you’re always stuck up in the house here by yourself. And Bart, you know, the one from next door—he’s hilarious—and he said he has something to show us and he wants everybody to see it! Yeah, you too!”
I rolled my eyes. Bart was a liar and he would always come up with stupid stories to tell the teachers about why he didn’t have his homework. His favorite thing was telling our teacher that he was allergic to math; he would explain how his mother saw him sneezing while he was working on some problems, and then took him to the doctor, and together with the doctor, they decided that it was no longer safe for Bart to come anywhere near a math book. The kids all laughed, but none of the teachers thought he was very funny.
But just before I was going to open my mouth to reject Teresa’s offer, my mom walked by my bedroom door. She had overheard our discussion and walked into my room to make a suggestion that made me cringe.
“Lily, that sounds like a great idea. You’ve been cooped up in this room for days. It’s so nice and sunny outside, go play with your cousin,” she said.
I groaned a deep, annoyed groan. I was hoping to give my mom the hint that I did not want to hang out with silly boys and a stinky cousin. But she didn’t get the hint. My mom was already handing me the play shoes that I tried to hide in the coat closet.
I thought that maybe if this invitation to play outside were to ever come up one day, I wouldn’t have to go if I wasn’t properly dressed. I can’t possibly play in the dirt in my nice church shoes, Mommy; I had my lines all ready. But Mom could find everything, and see past my genius.
A few minutes later, I was stepping outside into the front yard behind Teresa, close enough to make Mom happy, but with enough distance between us that allowed her funk to evaporate into fresh air before I walked into it.
The three boys were waiting in the cul-de-sac for us, standing in a half-circle.
“Took you long enough, T,” one of the boys, Jim, said. The way he talked made it seem like he wanted to be the leader of their little group. But maybe he was just being extra-rude and pushy because he was intimidated by a girl who was a bit tougher than him. It even seemed like he was standing up straighter than normal, as if to compete with Teresa, who was an inch or two taller. “Did you get the goods?”
“Of course, I got it.” Teresa pulled my mom’s table salt shaker from her pocket.
“Wha—how did you get that?” I said.
“You didn’t think I really wanted a little dork like you to come out here and play with us, do you?” Teresa said. “I just needed a reason to come back into the house without having to stay in for the rest of the day. You can go play with flowers now, if you want.”
I tried hard not to cry. For a second, I had thought that perhaps Teresa had really changed her mind and wanted me to be her friend after all. She teased me for a second, thinking I could have the sister I always wanted. I mean, there really was a nice flower patch a couple houses down that would be really fun to smell and pick. But Teresa was such a bully, and I couldn’t let her see me cry.
What did she want with my mom’s salt anyway? There was no food out there. Like, unless the boys were really as gross as I thought they were and actually spent their “playing” time hunting the rabbits and raccoons that hid in our backyards. Maybe they had a camp fire going out here somewhere and were cooking the hunted animals for lunch. One of the other boys, Arthur, who was really quiet and a bit chunky, looked like he’d eat just about anything.
“Look, Looney, are you going to be cool or are you going to cry and ruin this for all of us?” said Bart. Some of the mean kids at school called me Looney when they just wanted to pick on someone for no reason at all besides to be super- mean.
“Ruin what?” I asked.
“Shh! Hey, just say you’ll be cool, and we’ll tell you, okay?” Jim said.
I nodded slowly, kind of excited and scared at the same time to see what these kids were plotting.
“Okay,” Bart said. “So, I heard from my older brother that if you pour salt over a slug, a whole bunch of cool stuff happens. Like, it bubbles and stuff—and explodes.”
That seemed just like a Bart lie. But, then again, his big brother was in college, and you have to know something to be in college, right?
“Where are you going to find a slug, anyway?” I asked the group.
They all looked at Arthur. He raised his plump fist and slowly opened his fingers to reveal an icky, slimy, and fat slug. I could’ve upchucked all over myself and Arthur’s hand if he had held his fist open any longer. But he closed it after two seconds, because the slug started trying to squirm away.
“So, do you want to see it?” Teresa asked me.
I hesitated. It may be cool to see something explode in real life. I watched those movies with my dad sometimes, where the hero guy would drive his really fast car to chase the bad guy and then the bad guy’s car would blow up with a big BOOM and then the bad guy would walk away unharmed. Maybe if the slug really did explode, it would hurt Teresa—not too bad like she’d die or anything—but, bad enough that she’d have to go to the hospital and then go home finally.
But then again, it did seem kind of mean. I didn’t want to be a part of killing a little slug guy. He didn’t seem like he would have done anything wrong to deserve exploding.
As squishy as he looked, I guess he could be kind of cute. The slug was colored a dark forest green, almost brown, and his eyes were on the ends of two little prongs on the top of his head. In the couple of seconds that Arthur had his hand open, he moved his little eye prongs around, just innocently checking out the beautiful day outside. Even though it probably felt gross to touch the slug’s slimy skin, I think he would have made a nice pet. He could sit in a little box in my room and I could take him out and let Barbie play with him in her Zookeeper outfit. Mom never let me have a pet, because she’s allergic to like, everything with fur. But maybe she’d agree to let me keep a pet that doesn’t have any.
I told the boys and Teresa that if they hurt the little slug, they’d probably be in big trouble with our parents.
“Stop being such a wuss; it’ll be fun,” Teresa said.
I smacked my teeth at the group. I looked over at Arthur, to see his opinion of the whole thing, but for the most part, he looked unemotional, only a little uncomfortable. It could’ve been that he was feeling a little bit of guilt, but it was probably because he was still clutching tightly to the icky slug.
The boys and my cousin were determined to see what would happen. There was nothing I could do but just sit back and try not to watch.
The five of us walked over to a spot on the sidewalk. Bart gathered a couple of rocks and made a small circle to put the slug in, so it couldn’t crawl away. Once the slug’s fence was built, Arthur put it down and started rubbing his moist hand violently on his jeans to get the gooey gunk off.
The little slug—I decided to name him Bob—crawled around. He seemed nice, carefree and peaceful. I’m sorry little guy, I thought. That slug was an innocent creature. He was probably just minding his own business, chilling on the sidewalk, you know, having a perfectly sluggy day, when all of a sudden he got swooped up by these mean boys. As he crawled around in the boys’ circle of death, Bob didn’t even know harm was coming to him.
“You still got the salt, T?” Jim said.
In response, Teresa nodded and held up the salt shaker and waited for her cue.
“Everybody ready? Watching?” Bart said.
The boys nodded. Teresa poked me in the ribs, reminding me to respond, but all that came out was a squeak that sounded like a mouse. Once we were all ready, we kneeled down around the rocks and Jim did a quick nod to Teresa. That was her cue. She began to pour the salt slowly and methodically over sweet little Bob. She made sure to pour it evenly, so that every inch of him had at least a grain on it.
I gazed at Bob as she did this; he crawled around in the circle a little frantically, and soon reached the side I was kneeling next to. His little eye prongs swung in my direction. He didn’t have pupils like a human, but his little black eyes seemed to meet my gaze directly. He looked sadder than he did when he was in Arthur’s hand, almost like he was beginning to realize what we were up to. He was asking me to do something about these horrible kids, asking me to save him.
But I couldn’t.
Teresa poured the salt and as much as I wanted to run away and tell my mom, I couldn’t look away. It was like something you’d see on the Discovery Channel or in science class, but even more gruesome. I knew it was torture, but it was also mesmerizing, and I began to feel like I was just as big a bully as Teresa and the boys.
At first, nothing really happened. But then, seconds later, sizzling white foam started coming out from the poor little slug’s body and he began rolling around, bending back and forth. It looked like he was trying to escape the sudden rain of his impending doom but there was nowhere for him to go. Teresa had surrounded the slug with the salt and I’m sure that the slug was now incapable of actually crawling anywhere. All he could do was wiggle back and forth until his skin dried up and looked like it was going to fall off.
Jim, Bart, and Teresa laughed as they watched the slug writhe in pain. Arthur just stared. It was hard to tell if he felt anything. I, however, was close to tears. Sure, the slug was just a slug, but I mean, what if he wasn’t? What if he had a little slug family and had to bring back berries or whatever for them to eat—or what if he was just a baby, taking his first walk around the neighborhood alone? What if his mommy and daddy slugs were waiting for him to get back home safely to the bushes?
It was the most horrid thing I’d ever seen in my life. The creature that was once happy and carefree was now squirming in pain because of what they did, what we did. I assisted them in this torture by not immediately running away and telling on them.
I kept looking at the little slug. He was completely white and foamy, but Teresa kept pouring more salt. And finally, I couldn’t take it anymore.
“Stop!” I yelled. I snatched the salt shaker from my cousin’s hand and threw it as far as I could across the cul-de-sac.
“Hey!” Teresa said. “What’s the big idea?”
I ignored her, and then I took a deep breath to try to compose myself before I electively poisoned my hands with the icky, dying slug.
I ran into my house, ignoring Mom’s shouts of concern as I ran straight to my bathroom to run warm water over the slug, trying to save him.
“It’s okay, Bob!” I cried. “I’m going to save you. Those big bullies… I’m going to get this all off you, don’t worry!”
After a few minutes of hearing my panicked shouts, Mom came up the stairs to my bathroom where I had begun crying and crazily rubbing the slug. I was worried that he wouldn’t recover. He no longer had the slimy texture that he did when Arthur first held him, and I couldn’t tell if he was still with death or not because my hands were shaking.
“Honey, what’s the matter?” she asked.
I was crying hysterically at that point and couldn’t make full sentences. I dropped a limp Bob into the sink basin, rubbed my eyes hard with the clean back of my hands and said, “Teresa… stupid boys… salt… dead…”
“Wait, what?” Mom stepped closer to me inside the bathroom and looked to see what I was doing in the sink. When she saw the dead slug, she gagged a bit, and then took a quick step back.
I just stared at her. I was exhausted and didn’t know what else to do.
“Oh, God! … Oh, honey, Lily. I’m so sorry this happened. But we have to get him out— I, uh, I mean, give him a proper funeral outside before his soul leaves and becomes an unhappy soul and haunts our backyard. I’ll tell your dad to dig a hole for him, okay?”
“Okay, Mommy,” I said through slimy tears and snot that was horrifically reminiscent of Bob’s pre-salt texture. I picked up the dead slug out of the sink and followed my mother out of the bathroom. As we walked down the stairs, I asked my mom, “C—c—can we send T—Teresa home, now, Mommy?”
My mother paused. She blinked.
“Well, Lily,” she said. “I don’t think we can just send her home, but I’ll definitely have her talk to her mom or dad—or both if they’re still together—about what happened today.”
“What do you mean, ‘if they’re still together’?” Teresa had just walked back into the house. A look of utter shock flooded her face. I may have even seen a tear roll down her cheek.