'Tiger and Turtle' by Sinéad O'Hart

Truth be tol’, I feel like hell the day Turtle and me decide to ride the rollercoaster.
‘They ain’t gon’ let us on,’ I say. ‘Les’ jus’ bounce.’
‘Fool, I know the ticket guy, ai’ght? No sweat.’ I can’t do nothin’ but shrug, and hope my head stops hurtin’ soon.
Eventually, we facin’ the top of the line.
‘You two jokers, right?’ says Ticket Booth guy. ‘Git. You gotta be this tall –‘ he points at some grinnin’ fool on a billboard – ‘to ride.’ But Turtle, he know a back door. Soon, we on board.
My head bustin’ like a neverendin’ punch, an’ Turtle talkin’, but I ain’t hearin’. Two seats in front, there’s a tiger sittin’, stripes an’ tail flickin’. He turns, growlin’, an’ I smell his meat breath.
Coaster starts movin’, an’ I lean across to Turtle, real slow.
‘Turtle, man,’ I say, so low he can’t barely hear.
‘What you sayin’?’ he yells, leanin’ in. He soun’ like a freight train.
‘Turtle, man! Up front. Up front!’ I’m flickin’ my eyes in Tiger-boy’s direction but it ain’t no good. Turtle, he refuse to see.
‘What in the hell wrong wit’ you, boy?’ He fling hi’self back into his seat and fol’ his arms like he waitin’ for church to start. ‘You crazy.’
‘You don’t see nothin’?’ The tiger smilin’ at me now, his teeth shinin’ gold. Plenty o’ room in that ol’ mouf for me an’ Turtle too, and then some.
‘Ain’t nothing there to see,’ Turtle say, lookin’ out at the world. ‘No, sir.’
My head fit to bust, then. Feelin’ like my skin gon’ split, startin’ right at the top o’ my head, flayin’ down to my footsoles. The ol’ tiger, well. He turn, his shoulder ripplin’ like a black an’ yellow ocean, like a cornfield full o’ shadow. He turn s’more, one giant paw comin’ to res’ right on the seat in front. My brain screamin’. The tiger’s eye like a dyin’ star.
‘Turtle, man – I ain’t feelin’ so good,’ I say, an’ it the truth. My eyeballs fit to come pop right out my skull and lie, fizzin’, on my fool cheeks. I need to get out my seat, but the coaster flyin’ by now. I strugglin’, Turtle beside me suckin’ his teeth, leanin’ out the side.
‘Quit yo’ wrigglin’!’ he snap, turnin’ to me with his eyes wide.
An’ then the tiger, he pounce. He fall like a hammer, like a mountain. He brung night with him, pure dark, full o’ noises and danger and the stink o’ death. Then I hear Turtle screamin’, an’ my head explode. I bust up an’ out, th’owin’ off my skin, my self, an’ my arms ain’t arms no mo’, my hands ain’t hands.
I got claws longer n’ my ol’ body. I got pelt. I got teeth.
So I sink ‘em, ever’thin’, into ol’ Tiger-boy.
As we fallin’ out the coaster I hear him laughin’.
Welcome, chile, he say. I knew it was you.

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