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I crawl through it, p.1
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       I Crawl Through It, p.1

           A. S. King
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I Crawl Through It

  Begin Reading

  Table of Contents

  Copyright Page

  In accordance with the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, the scanning, uploading, and electronic sharing of any part of this book without the permission of the publisher is unlawful piracy and theft of the author’s intellectual property. If you would like to use material from the book (other than for review purposes), prior written permission must be obtained by contacting the publisher at [email protected] Thank you for your support of the author’s rights.

  For Andrea Spooner

  What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have yet to be discovered.

  —Ralph Waldo Emerson

  Prologue—The place where we explain the helicopter and how not to eat the green sauce at Las Hermanas and we don’t mention anything about love

  Gustav is building a helicopter. Nobody knows because Gustav has been building it in small sections. He understands things like the physics of flight. He understands vectors.

  I could never understand a science that doesn’t relate to humans or biology; but Gustav tells me his helicopter will be better than a stupid human.

  He says, “Can you fly?”

  Gustav believes his helicopter is invisible, and because he believes it, it is so.

  There are two seats in Gustav’s invisible helicopter so he can take a passenger. There is space behind the seats so he can take a backpack. Snacks. A camera. A helicopter map. Maybe a parachute. Maybe no parachute. It probably depends on his destination.

  “This isn’t some dumb mini-helicopter kit,” he said when he explained it at first. “It cost me fifty grand.”

  “Where did you get that kind of money?” I asked.

  “None of your business,” he said.

  Gustav is building a red helicopter. It’s not invisible. If I want, I can see it on Tuesdays. Other people can see it on other days, but I can only see it on Tuesdays, which is when the #10 combo is the dinner special at Las Hermanas. My favorite. Dos enchiladas. Always get the red sauce. The green will burn your eyes out.

  Gustav lives three blocks from Las Hermanas, so I stop by and see the helicopter on my way home. He is making good progress.

  Mama says Gustav is mad crazy. I think he’s a genius. I think Mama is jealous. I think she would build a helicopter and take off as soon as she could if she could, but she can’t so she doesn’t and she says lies about Gustav like “That boy isn’t right in the head” or “He’s going to end up in the looney tunes if he’s not careful.”

  Stanzi Has a Family History

  Mama and Pop went on a trip this week. Usually they save the trips for weekends or summer vacation with me, but they said they wanted to go alone and asked if I could heat up my own TV dinners and stay safe overnight by myself. I’m a senior in high school. Raised by them. I heat up my own TV dinners and stay safe overnight every day by myself. I didn’t say it that way to them, though. I just said yes.

  So on Tuesday morning, they set their GPS for Newtown, Connecticut. That’s where the 2013 Sandy Hook massacre was. I bet you could scan Mama’s camera and I bet you’d find pictures of all the landmarks that were on TV. The firehouse. The neighbor’s house. The school’s parking lot. I bet you’d find a hundred damp, balled-up tissues on the floor of Pop’s Buick, too.

  It’s like they’re mourning the loss of me and I’m still alive. It’s like they’re mourning the loss of something bigger than all of us and they take me with them to show me the hole. I’ve already been to Columbine, Virginia Tech, the site of that Amish school, and Red Lake, Minnesota. We even flew to Dunblane, Scotland, when I was ten.

  I own the most morbid snow globe collection in the world.

  For what it’s worth, I can’t lay one more cheap bouquet of flowers by a memorial. I can’t light one more candle. I can’t count out twenty fluffy teddy bears that will only wilt under the Connecticut winter snows.

  For what it’s worth, I sobbed for three days after that guy shot up those kids in Newtown. I stopped using tissues because my nose got so raw. I didn’t shower. I didn’t talk. I didn’t breathe, hardly. Call me emotional or a drama queen and I don’t care. I’ll tell you again: I fucking sobbed.

  Then I dissected a frog.

  It didn’t make me feel any better, but it made me stop crying.

  Stanzi—Thursday—Another Frog Dissection

  1. Place frog in tray, ventral side up.

  2. With forceps, lift the skin of the lower abdomen. Cut with scissors.

  3. Slide scissors into the opening and cut to below the lower jaw.

  4. Cut the sides just posterior to the forelimbs and anterior to the hind limbs.

  This is my seventh frog dissection this year. Mr. Bio lets me help with the freshmen if they’re dissecting. I am the best frog surgeon he knows. That’s our joke. I bet he’d make me a name tag that says BEST FROG SURGEON if he could, but he’s not very artistic. I’m his assistant, and I help hand out the forceps and scalpels while the students get into their lab coats and put on their goggles. I can’t actually hand out the frogs, though, because I’m always surprised by how dead they are.



  Bred so we could cut them open and find their livers and draw them for points in a notebook.

  Mr. Bio told me in ninth grade, “You’re going to make an excellent doctor one day.”

  “That’s the plan,” I said.

  “It’s a good plan.”

  “I want to help people,” I said.


  “I know I can’t help everybody, but even if I can help just one person, you know?”

  “Yep,” he said.

  “I’m thinking about going into the army,” I said.

  Mr. Bio made a horrible face. “Why?”

  “Did you ever watch M*A*S*H?” I answered. M*A*S*H is a late-twentieth-century TV show about a mobile army surgical hospital unit during the Korean War. It reruns on cable a lot. The main character is Benjamin Franklin “Hawkeye” Pierce. He’s a surgeon from Maine.

  “Of course,” Mr. Bio said. “I grew up with M*A*S*H.”

  “That’s why,” I said. I didn’t tell him Hawkeye Pierce is my mother. No one would understand that. Hawkeye Pierce was a man. A fictional man. Most people would think he couldn’t be anyone’s mother. Except he’s mine. He puts me to bed every night. He makes my dinner. He teaches me about the world and he’s always honest.

  Mr. Bio put his hand on my shoulder and said, “You should stay away from that recruiter.”

  “It wasn’t the recruiter,” I said.

  “Well,” he said. “There are better ways to pay off med school loans. We’ll talk about it once you get closer to graduating.”

  We did. Talk about it. I am now sixty days from graduating. Mama and Pop don’t think going into medicine will be good for me. They think I should be a forest ranger. I have no idea why, especially on days like today when my scalpel knows just where to go. Especially on days like today when I don’t even have to refer to the drawing to locate the heart, the stomach, the liver, the urinary bladder.

  Mama tells me that being a forest ranger will be quiet.

  That I will be safe.

  She says, “Trees help us breathe, you know.”

  This morning, the school administration got a letter. The letter claimed to be from a student who was going to blow us all up before testing week. Nobody is supposed to know this, but I know. You want to know how I know, but I can’t tell you that yet.

  The point is: Somebody sent a letter and nobody knows who it was.

  But I might.

  He or she could be here with us today, scalpel in hand, and from here behind your plastic goggles you’d never know he or she could write that and send it.<
br />
  He or she is not what you think.

  I don’t think they ever are.


  My frog is a contradiction—splayed out like a victim of violent crime. Left for dead. One of many. The frog also looks peaceful. If a frog can look proud, then mine looks proud. If a frog can look the opposite of proud, then mine looks like that, too.

  I’m like this.

  Cut in two.


  And so is the kid who sent that letter to the administration. Proud and humiliated at the same time. Splayed and standing at attention. Dead and utterly alive. Split right down the middle, neck to groin.

  One freshman kid passed out so far. He joined the two conscientious objectors in the adjacent lab with the door closed so the smell of formaldehyde won’t make them puke.

  I like the smell of formaldehyde.

  It preserves things.

  What’s not to like about something that preserves things?

  Stanzi—Thursday—Tetra-gam-EE-tic Ky-MEER-a

  Do you know what a tetragametic chimera is?

  We learned about it during a genetics discussion last fall.

  It’s some crazy thing that happens to you between when you’re conceived as cells and when you’re a zygote. Somewhere between sperm-meets-egg and embryo. Somewhere between the one-night stand and the trip to the drugstore for the test kit. Somewhere in there you used to be fraternal twins. And you blended. Two into one.

  It is not murder or homicide. Even though there were two and now there is one, you are only cells. Even though one of you is missing—really none of you is missing. You are all there. All two of you. But not at all two of you.

  You belong this way.

  Only no one knows it except your DNA. And nobody goes around looking at DNA—not unless they need to. Most tetragametic chimeras never know they’re tetragametic chimeras. Except you have to know, right? You have to feel that somewhere. That twoness. The split. The schism.

  I feel it.

  I’m part leader and part follower. I’m part good and part evil. Part complicated, part simple. A human yin-yang. Where are you going? Where am I going? Why are you following me? Why am I following you? Why are we doing any of this?

  Test week makes me ask questions. It splits me in two just as much as it always did. Last year they made me do makeup exams because the first time around, I filled the dots in according to how I was feeling when I read the question. A = Annoyed. B = Bored. C = Choleric. D = Disappointed. E = Empty. When I was done with makeup exams, I broke all my number two pencils in half so they could feel how I feel every day.

  I’ve dissected so many things—from eggs to a bull’s eye to a mouse, a snake, and a bird. Small animals seem easier to me. Once I hit senior AP biology, my emotions kicked in or something. Or maybe it was the summer trip to Columbine High School that lingered. I don’t know. The larger animals seemed… different.

  A fetal pig. I thought I would draw the line there. I thought I’d be grossed out dissecting a fetal pig. I thought about where we got it. Where did we get it? Where does one even get a fetal pig?

  A cat. I knew I’d draw the line there. I couldn’t cut open a cat. I have a cat. I feed it. I try to keep it alive with water and food, and I bought it a scratching post.

  But I’d cut open a cat.

  The scalpel didn’t know it was a cat. The scalpel did what I told it to do. My hands—my hands are not mine some days. They belong to the other DNA. They are my twin’s hands. They’re capable of cutting open a cat and removing its liver. I’m not capable of doing that.

  After frog dissection #7, I go to the library and do my homework. I’m the only one there. It’s as if the bomb has finally exploded and I am the only survivor.

  Then I go home and cuddle my living cat and watch M*A*S*H. I watch three episodes before I go to bed. The last one is “Love Story,” season one, episode fourteen. Hawkeye Pierce says, Without love, what are we worth? Eighty-nine cents. Eighty-nine cents’ worth of chemicals walking around lonely.

  I think of what love must feel like. I’m not sure I know. I look at my cat. I ask it Hawkeye’s question: Without love, what are we worth?

  Did you know that the liver is the only organ that can regenerate itself? I bet Hawkeye Pierce knows this. I know Mr. Bio knows. I think Gustav knows, but because he might not, I turn off the TV and go out the back door toward his house. It’s late, but I know where he’ll be. He’s always there. He’s focused on one thing only… and it’s not me.

  Half of me is okay with this. The other half is not okay with this. Half of me would follow Gustav anywhere. Half of me would lead. For now I want to tell him about livers.

  Stanzi—Thursday Night—Livers

  As I walk, I feel the rift in my cells. I don’t know if everyone can feel their cells. I can feel every one of mine.

  China says she can feel her cells. China is my best friend. China is inside out, so I bet she knows more about her cells than anyone.

  Gustav doesn’t care about cells. Gustav understands physics. He likes electrical engineering. He’s building a helicopter.

  Halfway to Gustav’s house, a man steps out from behind a bush and asks me if I want to buy an H. I say I do not. “I don’t need an H,” I say.

  “How about a K?” he asks.

  I keep walking. When he yells something and I look back, he has his trench coat open and it’s almost dark, but I can see the details that tell me he is an animal.

  There is very little room in the suburbs to build a helicopter, but Gustav does it anyway. There is very little room in my heart for Gustav, but I let him in all the same. We watch the movie Amadeus together sometimes, and I know he feels like the main character, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and I know I feel like Mozart’s wife, Stanzi. Those nights when we watch Amadeus I don’t get a lot of sleep. I always dream biology operas in my head. The dead frogs dance. The dead cats sing. The fetal pigs play a perfect show on tiny fetal violins. They curtsy when the emperor acknowledges them.

  I wonder if Gustav dreams operas of helicopters. Rotors and motors and stick shifts and altitude meters.

  I’m not even sure if Gustav sleeps.

  “Hey,” I say.


  “What’re you doing tonight?” I ask.

  “Building my helicopter. Can’t you see it?”

  I can’t see it. It’s Thursday.

  Sometimes when I look at Gustav, I can picture him twenty years from now with a wife and kids—all of them flying around in his helicopter. I write them letters. The whole family. I write them postcards from my parents’ creepy trips.

  Hi, Gustav and family! Hope you get this okay! I still think about you every time I see a helicopter. I saw one today as I stood in front of the WELCOME TO THE UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS sign. Do you know that line from season one, episode fourteen of M*A*S*H where Hawkeye said “Without love, what are we worth? Eighty-nine cents. Eighty-nine cents’ worth of chemicals walking around lonely”? It’s my favorite line. I always wanted to know if that was true. Are we really only eighty-nine cents’ worth of chemicals? Can you tell me that one day? I miss you. Love, Stanzi.

  I never send the postcards. I keep them in a box.

  They make me mad sometimes.

  Maybe had we not joined as mere cells, my twin would have the guts to send them. Maybe she’d have the guts to see Gustav’s helicopter the other six days of the week. Maybe she’d have the mettle to just kiss him on his chapped lips.

  For now, she seems to only know how to cut apart cats and fetal pigs.

  “Livers regenerate themselves,” I say to Gustav, who is still standing there looking at me with a monkey wrench in his hand.

  “Do you mind if I go back to work?” he asks. “I have to get under the chassis, and I can’t hear you from there. Tell me more about livers tomorrow.”

  “Sure,” I say.

  I walk home again.

  The man jumps out from the bush and asks me i
f I want to buy a letter F and I jump behind the bush with him and kiss him like I mean it. He tastes like sawdust.

  I ask him for a letter.

  “You have to pay me,” he says.

  “I just did.”

  I begin to walk away and he grabs me by the back of my collar and yanks me back into the bush. I fight him, but then he hands me a finely sculpted letter S and thanks me.

  “No one has kissed me like that since I moved back here,” he says. “You’re very good at it.”

  I walk home smiling, pretending like I kissed Gustav, and I hang the S on my bedroom wall. I think it’s some sort of high-tech papier-mâché; it’s blue like limestone, but not heavy enough to be a real rock. I look at it and say, “Stanzi, you are a good kisser.” Fact is, the S reminds me that I didn’t kiss Gustav because I’m too scared to kiss Gustav. I don’t know what I’m scared of. I know I’m scared of everything.

  I open a random spiral-bound notebook and I draw a human body and I chop it up with lines. Hands. Feet. Head. Heart. Nose. Eyes. Lips. I draw an arrow to each and label it. Me for me. Her for her.

  She gets hands, lips, and nose. I get the rest.


  We had another bomb threat today. This time it was sent with a present. Someone mailed a box to the superintendent and included two things: a hex nut from a helicopter kit and a dehydrated frog liver.

  During AP bio, an administrative safety message is broadcast. Mr. Bio is supposed to lock down the area with a new red button they installed so no one can get into the science wing. He tells us we are supposed to hide in the back corner of the room and/or flee through the back lab in case of an intruder, depending on the situation.

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