We were just teens being teens.
Playing in the street. Riding our skateboards all over town. Getting into a little trouble. But it was always nothing more than some typical middle school mayhem. A few knocked over trash cans. A broken window or two. Everything we did was out of boredom. Back then there was no internet or even cell phones. It was just us and our imaginations, but at that age we were too cool to pretend and too bored to stay put. Maybe that’s why we decided to do what we did. Pure summer boredom.
The guys in our little crew were quite normal, except for Jeremy. He was the one who always took it a little too far. Always did the biggest jumps or rode down the steepest hills. Would steal the tequila from his grandparent’s house. Always had the Hustler mags. Talked incessantly about doing weird shit. He was very convincing too, like he knew something we didn’t. We always followed his lead even though we knew it was way, way wrong. And he most often had something on his body broken or strained. His battle wounds were
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epic. So it was not that big of a surprise when he showed up one day missing his index finger.
He showed it off proudly and at one point even loosened his thick wad of gauze so we could get a peak at the thick and bloody stump where his finger used to be. But the biggest shocker was when he pulled out his actual severed finger. He had it carefully wrapped inside a small cloth, like a precious piece of jewelry. He passed it around so we could all get a good close look. I recall the cut at the base looking clean like it was done with precision. I also remember seeing small detailed markings on the fingerprint, as if he’d carefully traced them or something. We bombarded him with questions of how it happened.
“My dad’s machete” was his answer.
He wouldn’t go any further which was odd since no details were ever spared with his past wounds and sprains.
Later that evening it was just Jeremy, myself and our friend Ryan sitting curb side at the liquor store. We were the ones with the least amount of parental supervision, the rest of the crew had curfews. Jeremy was admiring his severed finger when he suddenly said,
“I wonder what it tastes like”.
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Ryan and I reacted just as young teens would, with sneered disgust. But Jeremy was serious. He launched into this story about how eating human flesh lets you “see into the future” and how it can “give you superhuman powers” and on and on. We sat there arguing about his wild claims.
“Go ahead then, eat it” I recall Ryan saying.
“Needs to be cooked” Jeremy said, like he knew exactly what to do.
“If I cook it, will you guys eat it with me?”… I remembered his exact words.
Of course we said no, and of course he called us “pussies” and how he thought we were different then the other guys but were really ‘just the same’. He knew how to pile on the peer pressure and push the buttons. Inevitably we agreed to sneak out and meet him later that night at the park.
I remember having some trouble sneaking out. I think it was because my mom decided to stay up late but I’m not certain. When I finally arrived, Ryan as already there. He was sitting next to Jeremy with a terrified and disgusted look on his face. He’d already had some. Jeremy held out a crumpled patch of tin foil. Inside was a cooked piece of finger.
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It looked like an ordinary bite of food and even smelled like it. There was something distinct about this small bite sized morsel, something I’d smell again later on in life, cumin (seasoning). I took it out of the tin foil and put it to my mouth. In that moment I caught a glimpse of Ryan. His faced had gone completely pale, and not with nausea. He looked unnatural as though he’d become older. His eyes seemed to glow against the streetlight. It terrified me. I dropped the finger on the ground and ran home, fast.
Jeremy and Ryan stopped hanging with the rest of us that summer. I didn’t dare tell anyone about what had happened. There were rumors going around about Jeremy and Ryan, now inseparable, hanging with an older and rougher crowd getting into more serious trouble. Months later I moved a few towns over, so did some of the other guys. Our crew disbanded aside from a handful of us going to the same schools. I never saw Jeremy or Ryan ever again. That was almost thirty three years ago.
Last week I was at the grocery store and ran into one of my friends back from those times, Glen. We actually went to high school together. I asked if he’d seen or kept in touch with anyone from our old crew.
“As a matter of fact, I have” he said.
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He began telling my about a new “progressive” church that he and his family attends, how great the people are and how energized and supportive the message is.
“Ryan is there…,” he said, excitedly.
“… and Jeremy is the pastor!”.
Glen’s enthusiasm was infectious. He invited me to bring my family down for their annual “Family and Friends Feast” celebration. He reached into his backpack and handed me a flyer.
I noticed his index finger was missing.